As I get older, I notice I get more desperate for accomplishment and notoriety. I see the sand slipping through that glass and think in terms of years left. "If I can write two novels a year, I'll have twenty-five finished by age sixty." Stuff like that. I notice I push myself hard and it creates stress. I get depressed every day that goes by and my agents fail to call me with good news of a publishing contract. Why can't I take God's view of eternity and know that the gifts and talents I am developing and honing now will follow me into the new order? Part of me wants so badly to touch the world, to make a difference, to end my life with the ability to look back and say I've accomplished something important. That I helped change lives, led people to God, imparted some hope. I pray every day for God to use my gifts and talents to those ends. And I trust He will, in His time, in His way. but what am I to do? What should we all be doing?
I am reminded of Jesus' discussions of being entrusted with precious things. He spoke of those who are given much, and more is then given to them. Why? In another place he says "he who is faithful in little is faithful in much," and that when we are entrusted with a task and we are faithful in carrying it out, we are giving more responsibility. I try to ponder of this concept often. I try not to despise the days of small things, small accomplishments. I know God has given me some very precious gifts and I know He has called me to use them to the full for His glory. He has not called me to be successful; he has called me to be faithful. I also think of the widow who hounded the poor judge until she got what she wanted. So is it wrong for me to pray incessantly that I want these successes? I don't believe it is. But I do believe when we pray for something we really want, we need to take the "talent" God has given us and invest it wisely.
I've read numerous postings of fellow editors, and seen posts of writers' discussing the role of holy spirit in the lives of writers. Many, many authors claim they have been compelled to write their book, story, poem, by God's spirit. Not only that, they say God wrote their piece, so they don't dare edit it or touch it. Many editors reply, "If God wrote your book, why didn't he edit it, too?"
If God calls you to be a doctor, do you just assume he will perform your surgeries for you and you don't even have to go to med school? You will just be given this gift and then you let Him do all the work? We would be horrified to go under the knife of a surgeon who had never spent a minute studying medicine. So why do writers feel they can just write under Holy Spirit and produce a God-inspired, perfect work? Doesn't it make more sense that we first get the call, and then we take the talent and prove faithful in what has been given us? To me, that equates with hard study, practice, discipline, humility to ask for and act on advice in order to be a proficent writer that God can use.
It goes back to the adage: Act as if your life depends upon you; pray as if your life depends upon God. Maybe I have that wrong, but it makes sense to me. If I plow ahead, full steam, sowing day and night, not letting my hand rest--as if it depends upon me--then I am showing the faith I have in God. How? Because if I truly believe He has called me to task, then I want to be about doing it 100%. Putting every determined, faithful effort in that I can. But underneath it all I hear Jesus' words from John 15:5: "Apart from me you can do nothing." Not some things, not little things-NO things. Nothing. We don't know what on earth we are doing for heaven's sake; we only trust that Jesus is in control and he will give us things to do.
So, that's my resolution for the new year--oops--for each and every day until eternity: To be faithful with what I've been given. To not squander the gifts, however small and seemingly insignificant. To pray incessantly for what I want in accordance with God's will. And, lastly, to be alert and awake, so I will not miss the nudgings of God, so I will follow His lead and grab every task set before me so I can prove myself a faithful steward of what He has entrusted to me. May this be a resolve for us all. Susanne
I've watched these lists appear, and I must admit to a certain amount of envy. I used to plan everything. I used to keep the impeccable calendar of an Air Force officer's wife, with every social engagement meticulously planned ahead, babysitters hired, the perfect wardrobe for the occasion, my husband's uniform cleaned and ready. Dinners were planned, sometimes spur of the moment, but my recipes were well ordered and I could switch gears on a dime if I had to. Now I don't plan past getting up in the morning. My life has turned a full 180 degrees, and I'm feeling a little lost again this year. The injury that changed my life almost five years ago has now disabled me since the last surgery. When I was younger, I never saw this on my horizon. Never!
This time of year is always bittersweet for me. When I was young, I couldn't wait to grow up, to be out on my own and somehow take the world by storm. I longed for the stage, but beyond a few church productions, that didn't happen. Probably a good thing. Sometimes God protects us from ourselves. Then I married and started popping out my children. I couldn't wait until they all started school, so I could pursue my writing, at least for those few hours a day. That worked in a minimal way. I did write more, and I did see publication in several magazines and national church flyers. But school years also increased the activity level, with field trips, parent/teacher conferences (which were numerous with my son), school programs, and after school sports. They were busy years, but looking back now, they were golden. I didn't see divorce on my horizon. I didn't see a broken heart, broken family, broken dreams. Somehow, even ten years later, I find I'm still trying to pick myself up off the floor from that blow.
Then God sent love my way again. Two years ago, Larry Morris swept into my home and my heart with flowers, chocolates, a basket of clementine oranges, a stuffed penguin, and a glass hummingbird. He swept me off my feet and let me know it was ok to love again. Our first date was January 10th, my 50th birthday. Larry made it a memorable one! The best birthday I'd had in years. God brought Larry along at a point when my spirits were low. I'd been hurt on the job and was weary of the constant pain, the doctor's visits, and physical therapy. Larry helped me forget the pain and live again, in spite of my limitations. We had such plans. Trips to take, plays and dinner theatres we wanted to attend, friends and family to visit. Our goals were set together. As writers, we both determined to help each other prepare for publication. Then a fatal car accident changed all those plans, demolished goals, destroyed hope. I still don't understand why God took him away from me. One day, I'll ask Him about that.
This time of year, it's hard for me to set goals. Even though two years have passed since Larry left me for his Heavenly Home, I still face the early months of the New Year with a certain heart-sickness, and a longing for what might have been. I pass the restaurant where we had our first date, and I feel the tears well up. The pain returns, and plans are harder and harder to make.
And yet…. Somehow in all these things, God has kept His gentle Hand on my head. I feel the pressure of that Hand even now, as I write these words. What lies in store? Do I even want to know? Could I face it if God did let me in on the future? If I could have foreseen the heartbreak, would I have even let Larry in the door? Probably not. But if I hadn't, I would have missed not only the blessing of loving him and being loved, but I would have missed the camaraderie of so many dear people, like our own Frank Creed and Cynthia McKinnon-Morris. I would have felt dried up and shriveled, unworthy of the love of a good man. Yes, God had a plan. I don't understand it fully – certainly I don't understand why my future couldn't include Larry's presence HERE. But God Almighty has a divine plan for each of our lives. In spite of pain, heartache, worldly pressures, monetary need – in spite of all the things that distract us and distress us, God has a PLAN.
I'd like to see my own novel, The Last of the Long-Haired Hippies, completed and published this year. I'd also like to make significant progress on a collaborative work called The Song of the Grey Lady. We've been stalemated for quite some time now, and are eager to get back to work on the journey we started together. And I've promised several reviews, which I desperately need to finish.
But goals? I think I'll leave the planning to God for the time being. He's much better at it than I am these days. Pain is still my companion, and earthly issues, like earning some semblance of a living, are pressing like a schoolyard bully. Only God knows what this year holds for me, and I'm content to leave that knowledge in His capable Hands.
I'm doing well to make it out of bed every morning.
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Good tidings we bring, to you and your kin
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy new year!
For more Christmas cheer, check out the Carnival of Christmas, and Adam Graham's reading of the Christmas Story on the Truth and Hope Report.
While revising my Oral Interpretation of Literature course, I ran across an interesting paradigm for evaluating literature. This model says that literature can be evaluated by three basic criteria (of course, there are many more, but these are pretty good ones): Universality, Suggestiveness and Individuality.
I am somewhat disturbed by how many speculative fiction writers approach the discussion of literature. You only talk for a little while before the examples cease to be print and become movie or TV examples. Okay, I watch a lot of TV. I possibly watch more than I should, but living alone, it's nice to have some noise in the house. However, the visual dynamic of movies and TV does not always translate well into print. So, it may be good to get back to how literature works and what makes for a quality reading experience. Therefore let's look at each of these components of good literature
By universality, we do not mean that everyone will like the story or poem. Personal tastes vary and even the best writers won't appeal to everyone. For instance, I know Stephen King is a great writer. His technique is great and he has some interesting plots and the ability to extract terror from the most mundane events. However, I just can't seem to make it through one of his books. They just aren't to my taste.
No, universality does not refer to appeal, but rather to the themes of the literature. Sometimes speculative fiction is unfairly criticized by the mainstream critics as being light weight and only appealing to geeks and nerds. But if they really read the best of our genre, they would see that good speculative fiction deals with eternal themes such as the nature of courage, the search for love, racism, war and peace, honor and dishonor.
Now, some science fiction and fantasy can become so narrow that it loses that universal understanding. Okay, to use a TV example, the last of the Star Trek series , Enterprise, suffered from this "insider" syndrome. So much of the enjoyment of that series depended on people being familiar with the other series in the Star Trek franchise. Trekkers loved it, but not very many other people did. It didn't really have that sense of universality. Most consider it a major failure and possibly sounding the death knell for one of the most successful TV and movie franchises.
One place where writing departs from the more visual media is in the area of suggestiveness. Reading, more than watching a TV show or a movie, is a partnership between the author and the reader. It is not only the author's vision, but also the reader's which matters.
Unlike the "unblinking eye" of the camera the written word doesn't spoon feed the reader everything. Instead, the effective writer gives the reader enough information so that she or he can create the scene in his or her own mind.
Christian writers in particular struggle with the "show vs. tell" dichotomy when it comes to explicit sex, violence or profanity in their writings. Some claim that they need to be as explicit as an R rated movie to be taken seriously others opt for avoiding such issues entirely. There is a third option which is to neither show nor tell, but to suggest.
I was reading "The Callistan Menace" a short story by Isaac Asimov and ran across a delightful passage. A boy has stowed away on a space ship and the captain has discovered it.
"It wasn't to be endured! For half an hour, the Captain shot off salvo after salvo of the worst sort of profanity. He started with the sun and ran down the list of planets, satellites, asteroids, comet, to the very meteors themselves. He was starting on the nearer fixed stars, when he collapsed from sheer nervous exhaustion."
Now, there is no doubt about the profanity here. The captain is acting like a space hardened rascal, but we read not a word of actual profanity. Indeed, we are left to guess at what he said, which actually involves the reader more than if Asimov had just let the captain "let loose" with a string of dirty words.
I'm not saying that the Christian writer should never allow blue language into their writing. That is a discussion for another time and place. However, I do think that sometimes laziness leads us to believe that ONLY a direct quote will make the point.
The same goes for explicit sexual activity. It may be important from time to time that your characters be sexually intimate. However, one can suggest that intimacy without giving a "moan by moan" description. For instance, one can simply take the couple to the bedroom door and leave them there. It is hardly ever necessary to the story or character development to explain in minute detail what each part of each body is doing.
If you are trying to convey that your character suffers trauma from her experience of being raped and that is going to affect the intimacy with her husband on their wedding night, you can say something as simple as, "Carolyn approached the bed with her heart pounding. She knew this should be the most wonderful night of her life, but for all that, for all the love she felt for Henry, the only man in that room, that night was Jason. She didn't even remember her wedding night the next morning."
The audience is left to imagine what may have happened that night and her conflicted feelings without us ever being explicit.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of good literature is that it reflects the unique voice of the author. Most of us learn to write by imitating others to a certain extent. I know my early writing looks like poor copies of Ray Bradbury and C.S. Lewis. Over time, though, those influences become part of who we are as writers and we transform those influences into a new voice.
Second grade literature, or any art form really, is derivative. By "derivative" I don't mean that it is influenced by another's writing or even that it shares some plot elements. There are only a few basic plots to be found in any genre of literature. No, derivative means that the writing shares so many elements that a critic can clearly see the roots of the story.
I've said in the past, that the problem with a lot of Christian Fantasy is that too many writers are trying to rewrite Tolkien. The plots are so similar to the Ring Trilogy with the archetypal characters such as the dispossessed king running from his true position, the wise wizard, the unsophisticated, unlikely heroes pulled out of everyday life, the ugly creatures and the threat to the known universe from an evil force, and of course, the powerful talisman which must be mastered, stolen or destroyed.
Of course, that doesn't apply to all Christian Fantasy, but rather it is tempting to follow the formula that worked for someone else. How many times after a blockbuster movie appears that a bunch of TV shows pop up as obvious knock offs. And, of course, they are rarely as good as the original.
Each individual writer must walk the tightrope between rejecting out of hand the traditions of the genre just because they are traditions on the one hand and being bound to those traditions on the other.
It's one thing to be compared to Tolkien, Lewis, Card or Asimov. It's quite another to simply be poor copies of them.
I don't know if any of us will write "great" literature of the type that future generations will read in school or collect into anthologies. However, if we strive for that greatness, then we should be writing some pretty good stories.
By Stoney M. Setzer
Here we go again. The merry-go-round on rocket fuel that is the Christmas season is spinning at top speed.
If you’re anything like me, your schedule is full to the gills. Last Saturday, my dad and stepmom had their Christmas celebration, which wound up being an all-day event. The weekend before, my church had its Christmas presentation, and as the director I was enmeshed with it. Next weekend my stepmom’s family has their annual get-together, and of course Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are booked solid. As for this week, don’t even get me started on the last week of school before Christmas in a middle school!
Am I complaining? No; I love spending time with the family, and I enjoy directing the Christmas play—stress and all—every bit as much as I enjoy my writing. All of those are definitely good things (well, with the exception of the middle school students’ behavior, of course).
My point is this: With all of the good stuff that goes with Christmas, it is very easy to forget the best part of Christmas. We can get so distracted with parties, plays, and events that we can easily lose sight of the true cause for celebration, the birth of our Savior. And if the good stuff can distract us, then you can imagine what the negative aspects (expenses, last-minute shopping, etc.) can do to our frame of mind.
How do we address this problem of distraction? Slow down for a minute this Christmas season. Either as an individual or with your family (or both), carve out some time to spend in worship and praise of our Lord. We have already received the ultimate Christmas gift. Make sure you find time to probably express your love and appreciation to the Giver.
There is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it. —C.S. Lewis
I'd always heard the holes in peoples' lives ring emptiest during the holidays. The world around me is having a party. All these lights, and trees, and presents. The manger has gone Hollywood and I don't have the energy to care.
What must it be like for those who feel this way every Christmas? Those who are alone, or grieve the passing of a loved one, or are out of work? Some of us just want the holidays to be over.
My odometer reads a little over 40k, and I've had some heavy issues crash down hard in recent days. The little bout of depression I'm battling could be nothing like what these holiday blues folks go through. When I compared my little issues to those of the brokenhearted, the homeless, and Christians in the Sudan, I realize my problem is that I'm not thankful enough for what God's given me. How can the cue-ball of health and job have all my life's spheres smackin' around, when I consider a city like Bombay, or the world's orphans living in garbage dumps?
I've been running so hard in this hamster-wheel, I've missed Indiana's autumn leaves turning in recent years. I love to watch the leaves turn. That's sold-out-to-the-rat-race. When God rattled my billiards, it was His subtle way of saying you need more patience.
Well, can't I please please please learn that lesson faster?
Still waiting to hear back on that one.
Whatever's got you down, let Him forge you in the fire. I learned I had to slow down and enjoy His gifts. I've got to look around me and be very thankful for what I do have.
What's He teaching you this season?
Now you go out and pay-that-forward this holiday. Then, during the winter, next spring, next summer, etc.
This is no chain letter, this is real life.
Don't miss it.
Now it's not any secret that the answer to a bad attitude is a good laugh, a smile, and pleasant thoughts. Why? Because you can't genuinely laugh and smile without a corresponding good feeling. Our feelings have a direct impact on our outward demeanor.
The challenge is controlling our feelings. Change our feelings, change our attitude. The good news is that we can control our feelings. We're not at the mercy of our emotional life. Emotions (the well from which our feelings arise) serve as a barometer of what's going on inside of us. And we can change what's going on inside.
How? By monitoring our thoughts. Our thoughts affect our feelings which in turn shows up in our attitude. And the best way to monitor our thoughts is by listening to our self-talk. In other words, we need to think about our thinking. This might be a true difference between us and animals. We have the ability to consider our thought process and not just react by instinct (which seems more emotional in nature, doesn't it?) And since we can control our thoughts, we have the ability to influence our feelings and thus change our attitude.
The Apostle Paul indicates that we can "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV) This is good news indeed. If you control your thoughts, you control your feelings, and you control your attitude. So make a decision this Christmas season to smile - and give yourself the gift of a good attitude.
Smiling With You, Lyn Perry
Editor of ResAliens Anthology
I put off writing seriously for most of my adult life because I didn't believe I had time. And while that was partially the reason, I know that part of me procrastinated because I felt inadequate. Well you know what? I am inadequate and will be until the day I go to be with the Lord. If I had waited until I became good enough to write, then I wouldn't be an author today. God doesn't expect me to be perfect—he expects me to be obedient. I am called to write.
And I need to guard my heart and mind in Christ, because as I obey, that unrealistic thought process that nothing will go wrong seeps back into my thinking. It's twisted logic really. Because this world is perishing and things do go wrong and none of us are immune. Whether our trials stem from physical or mental health problems, relational difficulties, financial problems, books that aren't selling or something else, it's easy to get sidetracked. Some days I feel like that with my writing as I struggle to meet a deadline. Then I think of our Lord in the wilderness.
He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and then Satan tempted him with bread. It's when we are weak that he attacks. As we go through our own wilderness experiences we feel alone, but hold on to this: As a true believer you are not alone. The answer is learning to allow the Holy Spirit to lead. He knows the way through the wilderness.
Sometimes it's good to take a break from the gloom and doom world of writing speculative fiction. Given my fascination with horror and denomic thriller type stories, this is the perfect pick-me-up. I wish I could take credit for this, but alas, I can't. It's borrowed, with permission, from the Rapture Ready website www.raptureready.com. If you aren't familiar with it, check it out. Whether you are post-trib, or pre-trib, you will find some pretty interesting things there. --S.M. Kirkland
The Number of the Beast
by Todd Strandberg
Ever since John, the servant of God, wrote the Book of Revelation and mentioned the number 666, people have been trying to figure out the meaning of the mark of the beast. The number is mentioned in Revelation 13:16-18.
I believe the mark or number of the beast will be a financial identification system that the Antichrist will establish during the tribulation. He will use the mark as a tool for controlling all aspects of society.
The Antichrist will make it compulsory for everyone to have a tiny microchip implanted under the skin of the right hand or on the forehead. The microchip will hold various amounts of data pertaining to each person who receives the implant. Right now, the technology exists to fully implement this system. From here on out, the only changes will be in how much information those microchips will be able to hold.
Everyone who receives the mark will also have to swear allegiance to the Antichrist and acknowledge him as the supreme authority. This is why all who take the mark of the beast will be condemned to hell. All who choose not to receive the mark will be unable to buy anything because cash, checks, and credit cards will all be replaced by the beast system's instant funds.
As time has passed, we have lost the true meaning of the mark of the beast. Even though it is clearly defined as a mark that will be placed upon the right hand or forehead, a number of people throughout history have attached new and even weird meanings to the number 666. The number has become trivialized by its repeated association with its every random occurrence. Some folks have believed the beastʼs number was to be a certain year. Because of this, the year 666 AD was at one time considered the date for the advent of the Antichrist. When that date came and went without incident, many began to anticipate the year 1666 with dread. Nostradamus pointed to the year 1999 as an inverted 666 year.
Because the beastʼs number will have something to do with the Antichrist's name, scholars have been busy working equations to figure which world leaders have had names equaling 666 in some way. Depending on how you figure it, 666 can be made to add up to just about anyone's name.
A number of people have superstitions or phobias about this number. Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobiacs is the term for people who fear the number 666. I once met a person who refused to ride in a car that had a license plate with 666 on it. Another person I know adds a stick of gum or something to his purchases if his check-out total at the store is triple six in any way. When President and Mrs. Reagan moved out to California, their house number was, you guessed it, 666. They had it changed to 668. Any time a bill numbered 666 is produced by a governing body like the UN or Congress, prophecy watchers give the document a good going-over to see if it has a connection with end-time events.
Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh always says the best way to demonstrate absurdity is by being absurd. A friend recently emailed me a note listing other numbers of the beast. I expanded upon it and provide it here to illustrate how people can become too focused on the unholy number.
A Collection of Numbers of the Beast
666 Number of the beast
668 Neighbor of the beast
660 Approximate number of the beast
DCLXVI Roman numeral of the beast
666.0000 Number of the high-precision beast
0.666 Number of the millibeast
1/666 Common denominator of the beast
666[-/(-1)] Imaginary number of the beast
1010011010 Binary number of the beast
29A Hexidecimal number of the beast
-666 Negative number of the beast
00666 Zip code of the beast
$665.95 Retail price of the beast
$699.25 Price of the beast plus 5% state sales tax
$769.95 Price of the beast with all accessories and replacements
$656.66 Wal-Mart price of the beast
$646.66 Next week's Wal-Mart price of the beast
$333.00 After-Christmas sale price of the beast
$222.00 Going-out of business liquidation price of the beast
Phillips 666 Gasoline of the beast
Route 666 Way of the beast
665 Older brother of the beast
667 Younger brother of the beast
666 UP Soft drink of the beast
666lb cap Weight limit of the beast
666 F Oven temperature for cooking roast "beast"
666k Retirement plan of the beast
666 mg Recommended minimum daily requirement of the beast
6.66% 5-year CD rate at First Beast of Hell, $666 minimum deposit
20/666 Vision of the beast
1-800-666-6666 Toll-free number of the beast
999 Australian number of the beast
6"X 6"X 6" Lumber of the beast
66.6 GHZ Computer processor of the beast
666i BMW of the beast
666-66-6666 Social security number of the beast
6/6/66 Birth date of the beast
666.AC.com URL of the beast
IAM 666 License plate number of the beast
Formula 666 All-purpose cleaner of the beast
666 calories Diet of the beast
969 Dyslexic number of the beast
WD-666 Spray lubricant of the beast
66.6 MHz FM radio station of the beast
666 KHz AM radio station of the beast
Chanel No. 666 The beast's favorite perfume
666% What the beast gives in his game
I wouldn't totally rule out any other meaning to the appearance of the number 666. For example, a Halloween lottery pick-3 drawing once turned up 666 as the winning number. We may have to allow for the occasional sovereignty of God in His attempt to warn folks of the evils of this world--in this case, gambling and Halloween. If there's a wayward Christian at a convenience store buying a dirty magazine or a bottle of booze and the register rings up $6.66, I couldn't think of a better number for God to use to get that person's attention.
Now on the other hand, the next time you receive your water bill and upon opening it, you discover it comes to $6.66 or you realize you've used 666 cubic feet of water--don't go pulling your hair out. Unless it has a direct connection to the Antichrist or is some special message from God, 666 is just another number that randomly comes up.
Submitted by S.M. Kirkland
A couple of times when I mentioned this, someone has said, "You're a Christian writer. Don't you always pray about your work?"
Actually, I've only recently come to the idea of praying about my work. I know that sounds weird, but well, this was work. I didn't pray over doing dishes. If I worked in Walmart, I wouldn't pray over each transaction I rang up. Why, then would I pray over every article, e-mail or query letter I sent out? (Well, OK--I did pray about the query letters.) Further, I had the feeling that praying over my work was actually kind of selfish. Who was I to ask God to come from On High just to guide my hand toward success. I'd do my best for Him; if he liked it, it would do well; if not, all the prayer in the world wasn't going help.
I was first introduced to concentrated writing-focused prayer was when I interviewed Michael O'Brien, author of Father Elijah: An Apocolypse and other books. He received the idea for Father Elijah during a fervent prayer over the state of the Western World, and although he pushed it away, thinking it was a distraction, the idea and a sense of peace returned. "So during the next 8 months, I went to the blessed sacrament every morning asking God for the grace for that day's writing. I saw it as an exercise in obedience. I was convinced it could not be published in our time. No one was publishing serious Catholic fiction," he said.
An exercise in obedience. Maybe I'd been thinking about this the wrong way. Praying about my work wasn't a prayer that my work be successful--even successful in bringing people closer to God--but more about preparing myself to receive God's grace, opening myself to His will, and recognizing that I'm doing so. Maybe its just giving God His due by admitting, whether it's a lousy first draft or the scene that flows, His will be done.
Nonetheless, I'm a person of sloppy habits, and I still didn’t pray as regularly as I should, so 30K for Christ was a good way for me to refocus. I wrote a prayer for our Guild to use:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
God in Heaven, You granted us, in Your Image, the ability to imagine and create. This month, I endeavor to indulge that creativity. Look with favor upon my efforts.
Dear Holy Spirit, this day, this month, I commend my writing efforts to your care. I ask for your guidance and your prayers as I seek to complete the project(s) in my mind and my heart.
O my Jesus, son of God, Light of the world, help me to spread your Light in all that I do. May my words be pleasing to You. Be close to me in this month as I strive to write 30,000 words for you.
Dear St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus. You knew hard work all your life. Inspire me to keep working toward my goal even when the words won't come with ease. You faced uncertainty. Teach me, then to place my trust in God as I forge into the uncertainty of my writing adventure.
Dear Mary, our Spiritual Mother, you were uncertain when the Archangel approached you, yet you gave yourself to God's Will. Give me grace to recognize and embrace my calling.
I place myself and my muse in your care, full of trust and gratitude. Amen.
May the Holy Spirit fill me and guide my imagination, I ask through Christ our Lord. Amen
November is over. I didn't quite make the 30K goal. I did, however, work through some stumbling blocks in my novel's plot, fight off the demons of doubt that are plaguing me with this work, and get 20 K and a strong agent query letter closer to my goal. And I've improved my habit of prayer. That, more than anything, made the month a success.
I don't know what my problem is exactly, but the depictions of Lost Souls in stories simply fascinate me. There's something about a Lost Soul, someone who is utterly destroyed, confused, oppressed, in darkness, that of course reminds me of a Lost Sheep or of sheep without a shepherd.
When I see a television documentary about a prostitute, a petty thief, a prisoner, a molested kid who grows up to be a male prostitute, my heart goes out to them. Generally, it takes a lot to make me dislike them, and unless they are torturers, molesters, or murderers the disgust factor just isn't there.
I suspect this is because I'm a Christian. The whole saved-by-grace kind of thing. After all, our dear and wonderful Lord hung naked between two thieves, killed wrongfully by capital punishment, with a supposedly fallen woman as a comforter in his death. But I suspect this love for the fallen might have another cause. I'm a writer. The artistic soul often tends to veer toward the wounded, the alienated, and the outcast. I also grew up with some pretty wounded folks...folks many Christians would not really hang out with, much less write about.
Our Lord, as Yeats said, "pitched his tent in the place of excrement." Imagine heaven in its white purity. Imagine the filth of earth in all its sins. Earth is so sinful and dirty and filthy that even the most perfect righteous person is unclean and their righteousness like filthy rags. But what lifts us out of this dirt? The Love of God shed abroad in our hearts for God and for God's fallen sheep. And our faith in God's love for us.
Sometimes when I've finished reading a book written by a Christian writer, I find that the character's goodness has turned me off. I feel often that I have not read a book about the gospel of God's love toward us, but a book about a person becoming good. I feel as if, under the guise or showing the gospel, the author has written a book which led me to the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life. I feel as if the writer has written a book that shows me a Christ figure instead of a Christian figure.
I often wonder why so many main characters in Christian fiction, seem to be more like Christ than the Lost Sinner. Perhaps, unlike Christ, we cannot "condescend" (an old and lovely word, that) into the lives of those unlike us. Perhaps being in the dingy mind of a sinner is just too dark for us. Perhaps we identify too much with the Pharisees and still don't understand the essence of the gospel: our conversion is a conversion from our own righteousness and dead works to believing in God's love for us through the life and death of Jesus Christ.
Several Christians have not liked the way my main character, Loic, behaves after his converstion. They think he ought to behave better. I try not to write characters who are perfect. The first is my own issue: I don't like the idea of writing a perfect man. Human hearts lust. If they don't lust, they compare. And all too often, women romance writers seem to fall into the habit of falling in love with their main male characters...as if their main male characters are the literary man of their dreams. It's a subtle act of carnal concupiscence but it happens very often. Yes, I know men can write and read books without being in love with their male lead but the women writers I have known seem to need to be somewhat in love with a character in a book in order to read his story. This is a kind of lust and daydream I simply don't want to indulge in.
But the other reason is this: I'm a Christian, someone who continues to sin even after my conversion. I honestly wish I were perfect. But I am not. I muddle through with my brightest light being that God loves me. I am a writer, and so I can only tell about my own life, and maybe my readers will judge my characters badly. Or maybe they will identify with them, or maybe they will understand them. My hope, however, is that they will look up from my book with a loving heart that doesn't expect perfection from their neighbor or brother in Christ. Although we all have the mind of Christ and are being renewed everyday by His Living Word, only Christ is the true Christ figure. We and our brothers and sisters in Christ are nothing more or less than Little Christs, believers who are learning to love our neighbors as ourselves instead of measuring them by some standard of perfection. When I write, my only hope is that my readers will walk away from my books knowing how to love. And if we can love an imperfect character in a novel or in the Bible (Lot's wife, Job's wife, Hagar, Michal) we are well on our way to doing learning how to love.
Often we Christians say that non-Christians dislike us because we are so like Christ. But that isn't true. In fact, it is usually the opposite. They dislike us because we do not show the love of Christ. We often stand afar off from people we consider sinful and we often have a holier-than-thou attitude because we truly believe in our good works. And the writings of Christians often show this lack of understanding of the gospel of God's love.
Thank you dear Lord Jesus for teaching us how to love the lost and the saved the way you love us, and not with our own human measures.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
By day, Jeffrey Overstreet writes about movies at LookingCloser.org and in publications like Christianity Today, Paste, and Image. His adventures in cinema are chronicled in his book Through a Screen Darkly. By night, he composes fictional worlds all his own. Living in Shoreline, Washington, with his wife, Anne, a poet, he is a senior staff writer for Response Magazine at Seattle Pacific University.
Auralia’s Colors is his first novel. He is now hard at work on many new stories, including three more strands of The Auralia Thread.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Cloaked in mystery, Auralia grows up among criminals outside the walls of House Abascar, where vicious beastmen lurk in shadow. There, she discovers an unsettling–and forbidden–talent for crafting colors that enchant all who behold them, including Abascar’s hard-hearted king, an exiled wizard, and a prince who keeps dangerous secrets.
Auralia’s gift opens doors from the palace to the dungeons, setting the stage for violent and miraculous change in the great houses of the Expanse.
Auralia’s Colors weaves literary fantasy together with poetic prose, a suspenseful plot, adrenaline-rush action, and unpredictable characters sure to enthrall ambitious imaginations.
At the Auralia’s Colors Website you can read the first chapter and listen to Overstreet’s introduction of the book.
Okay, seriously now. The copy of the pre-written “reviews” the CFBA happily supplies summarizes this one pretty nicely. Albeit the “poetic prose” was still clearly written by an imperfect human being who occasionally uses an unnecessary thought tag here or there (pet peeve), and slips into omniscient now and again (that it largely proved effective where used is a credit to the author’s own gift) it represents an excellent first effort and fresh addition to fantasy bookshelves.
I really appreciated the distinctive world-building. Lately, too many of the “fantasy” stories I’ve read were set on basically earth. When you’re using magical elements, which do crop up in a few places, it’s the setting that will make or break that. What can be accepted as part of another world in well-structured fantasy will amount to dabbling in the realm of demons in a world too much like our own, and Overstreet’s writing showed an appreciation for this.
Though subtle, the theme of forbidding colors and talk of the Keeper (a God-figure) is woven to prod readers about matters of faith; although I had trouble interpreting the precise parable; Auralia almost becomes a Christ-figure in a traditional tragedy that would make the Bard proud (and how often do I get to invoke Shakespeare in a review?)
G. K. Chesterton wrote in his book, Orthodoxy, "The things I believe most now are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things . . . . Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense." Sounds strange--fairyland reasonable and common-sensical? He goes on to talk about this spirit of law pervading the realm of fairy tales, "a way of looking at life." Let's take a look one of the aspects he proposes.
First, all that takes place in a fairy tale is centered around the docrtine of conditional joy. The word if is paramount. "The fairy tale utterance always is, 'You may live in a palace of gold if you do not say the word cow'; or 'You may live happily with the King's daughter if you do not show her an onion.' The vision always hangs on a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend on one thing that is forbidden.' " Are we surprised that such rules tug at our very heartstrings in anticipation and curiosity? When we realize that these unpsoken rules seem to mirror our existence we know why they resonate. As Chesterton so duly noted: "In the fairy tale, an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten and cities perish. A lamp is lit and loves flies away. An apple is eaten and the hope of God is gone."
The whole crux of our existence, our entire paradigm, revolves around this doctrine of conditional joy. Humans were given this clear choice: to not eat from a particular tree, for it represented God's right to set the rules. Overstepping was not just an act of disobedience, it caused the whole infrastructure of creation to come tumbling down.
Thankfully, from the one act of rebellion all hope of God was not truly lost. At that very moment God produced a remedy for humanity--and guess what--it was another doctrine of conditional joy. We are all so familiar with the scripture: "That God so loved the world he gave his only-begotten son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).
We do not have to search the ends of the earth for a talking frog, gather a bushel of grain from a haystack, or fetch the princess's ring from the bottom of the sea to be given the greatest reward a King has ever offered. All we are required to do is believe in the Son, serve and honor him loyally and faithfully. I, for my part, am glad of the kindness in such an easy, joyful task.
[originally posted at http://www.cslakin.blogspot.com/: more on Chesterton at that address. Susanne]
(This post is part of the CSFF blog tour. A full list of participants can be found below!)
For a lifelong fan of Stephen Lawhead’s poetic and moving tales, every new book is a feast for the heart. Last year I read “Hood”, a necessarily brutal introduction to the rough world of the Brits and Normans of a thousand years ago. If that first volume in the King Raven trilogy was a little hard to get into, then it served to lay superb groundwork for this second one. Readers moving from the first book to the second will already know that the hero we have known as Robin is in fact Rhi Bran y Hud, and that our adventures do not take place in Nottingham, but rather in the March Forests of Wales in the times when the Normans began to overrun Britain and impose their cruelly weighted laws upon the Cymry. With this in mind, “Scarlet” grows beyond fantasy and becomes a living, breathing possibility of history.
The journey begins with Will Scarlet in a dark, damp cell awaiting the noose. He tells Odo the priest the entire tale of how he came to join the forest community, and the daring adventures accomplished in the company of his canny lord. Raids on forest roads embarrass the hard-nosed Franks again and again, rousing their ire and inspiring the band of rebels to ever riskier feats of bare-faced cheek, until Will is captured one unlucky night. But this is not the end of the story. I do confess that I began reading and soon after flipped through the back pages to see if Will escaped the impending execution; however, this information was not to be had in that part, and I was forced to find out in the usual way as events unfolded that did not disappoint in the slightest.
One of the most astonishing things about this book is the masterful style of writing. Now, we all know that Lawhead has always given us the very best of prose and adventure. Long have I modelled my own writing inspired by his example. But here, he has raised the standard by several rungs – most visibly in the changing viewpoints within the story. Aspiring writers are invariably told not to attempt this – let alone switch between first and third person narrative – because it’s almost impossible to pull it off without disturbing the natural flow of storytelling. But master that he is, Lawhead has accomplished it with flair. Only the most skilled of authors may break such rules and succeed at it, turning an apparent transgression of style into a many-faceted shine for the tale – thus dragging the reader happily helpless into the rush and flow of what would no doubt be called swashbuckling if this was a pirate tale. I guess young Rhi Bran is a pirate of the road, so the comparison may stand.
Speculative elements are found in the mysterious foresight of old Angharad, whose musings are reminiscent of prophets and druids. Her rituals and prayers seek a supernatural response to see through a complex and confusing matter facing the forest tribe she mothers.
“Scarlet” owns at once the familiarity of the traditional Robin Hood legends and a truer realism of earth and blood and honest-hewn humanity. Rather than the sanitised Robin and the Merry Men known to most of us, Lawhead has instigated a new tradition likely far closer to the truth of those turbulent times. A desperate folk having lost their livelihood and a desperate king denied his rightful throne are more than motivated to irk the strangers who cast them from hearth and home. The end of this book is not the end of the tale – there is another tome to come – but within these pages reside political intrigues, spiritual epiphanies, and tear-jerking romances to shake the world and change it almost beyond recognising by the time you turn the last page. This will be a joy to fans old and new, bringing back memories and hints of the world of Taliesin and Merlin, now long resting in the past. A hard journey taken with humour and zest, twisting into heart-warming surprises – a banquet for the soul, with the hope of more to come.
Trish Anderson Brandon Barr Wayne Thomas Batson Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Jeff Draper April Erwin Linda Gilmore Beth Goddard Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Sherrie Hibbs Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Kait Karen Dawn King Tina Kulesa Mike Lynch Margaret Karen McSpadden Melissa Meeks Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika or Mir's Here Eve Nielsen John W. Otte John Ottinger Lyn Perry Deena Peterson Rachelle Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Rachelle Sperling Steve Trower Speculative Faith Robert Treskillard Jason Waguespac Daniel I. Weaver Laura Williams Timothy Wise
Yes, we remember those unforgettable people, many of whom become as comfortable as old friends. Never-changing, they make the same mistakes every time we read the book or see the movie they inhabit. But why do we remember them? Return to visit them over and over? I believe it has to do with the emotions these characters evoke. If you are a fan of mysteries or thrillers, I'm sure you've had to wipe sweaty palms as the book reaches its conclusion. And I know of several guys who purposely took their girlfriends to see "Jaws" – just because the girls were prone to screaming and burying their faces in those strong shoulders. Don't you just want to scream at the screen: "Get out of the water, you idiots!" The old adrenaline pumps, the heart races … and we love it!
We love stories that suck us in and hit us squarely in the good old emotional bread-basket. I watched Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" last night. I've seen it many times over the years, but I still sit with riveted eyes, muttering to Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedrin), "Don't go up the stairs. Don't open the door. Has all that peroxide gone to your brain cells? Don't you at least suspect there are birds in that attic room? Go back downstairs and stay put!" But she opens the door, the birds attack through the hole in the ceiling, and she's knocked senseless.
And how about the last segment of the Star Wars saga? We all know that Anakin Skywalker is going to turn to the "Dark Side". We've known it since 1970 when Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke that Darth Vader used to be his apprentice. We've known since Darth Vader spoke the immortal line: "I am your father." in the second installment. Yet how many people shook their heads during the last movie and whispered, "Don't do it, Anakin. Don't give in. Don't believe the emperor." Come on, let's see a show of hands. I'll admit I still scold him when I watch the DVD – as if I can convince the character to change his course of action!
Why do we become so engrossed in movies or books? Because they touch our emotions. Alfred Hitchcock is known as the Master of Suspense. He took normal, everyday John Does and made us walk beside them for two hours at a time. We saw events through their eyes, felt their terror, and experienced their anger, their fears, their phobias, and desires. This was especially true in "Vertigo". My palms grew sweaty, (yes, I am afraid of heights too…) my heart pounded as Jimmy Stewart's character, John Ferguson, climbed the rickety stairs to save his beloved Madeline, and I cringed right along with him as vertigo hit. Mr. Hitchcock surely knew which buttons to push with his chill-seeking, adrenaline-addicted, heart-thumping audiences! In the featurette, "Obsessed with Vertigo", the narrator, Roddy McDowell said: "The master of suspense always liked to show the audience a familiar setting, and then introduce an unexpected twist of malice." Martin Scorsese said: "Over the years, I kept being drawn and drawn to the picture like being drawn into a whirlpool of obsession. A very, very beautiful, comfortable, almost nightmarish obsession…" The movie "Vertigo" is one of Hitchcock's most emotional roller coasters. Screenwriter Samuel Taylor spent a year working on the script with Hitchcock. He had this to say about it: "In those first talks, we decided that the more emotion there was in the man, (Jimmy Stewart as John Ferguson) the stronger the picture would be. And he found without even thinking about it, that he was making a picture that went much deeper than most of his pictures, just because the basic story – not the plot, but the basic story – had a true human emotion. This obsession of a man who, for the first time in his life, had fallen deeply in love." Pat Hitchcock, Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, also spoke about "Vertigo": "I think Jimmy personified for my father 'every man', so that when people went to see a picture, they could put themselves in Jimmy's place. And especially in "Vertigo". He wanted audiences to identify with Jimmy, which is what everybody did."
Emotions. They nail us with thrills, terror, excitement, sentiment… the entire gamut of the human experience. Hitchcock's "Rear Window" is another Jimmy Stewart classic. We see a house-bound man with a broken leg who watches his neighbors from his apartment window. When it appears that perhaps the man across the courtyard has killed his wife, Jimmy's character steps up his surveillance, even to the point of involving the exquisite Grace Kelly in his obsession. I watched that one last night too, and cringed as she snooped around this potentially dangerous man's apartment. I found myself muttering, "Get out of there! He's coming back! Get out NOW!" Oh yes, our emotions get us every time. That was the brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock. He knew how to evoke emotion in his audience. For almost 40 years, he thrilled and chilled us with stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
Stephen King employs the same techniques for this generation. From vampires to psychotic murderers to killer cars, he knows how to keep us on the edge of our seats. We empathized with John Coffey as he sat on death row and performed miracles big and small. And perhaps you shed a tear, as I did, when John sat in the electric chair that ended his life. (The Green Mile) We felt sorry for Mort Rainey, whose wife had left him for another man, and who becomes the target of a psychotic hick who claims plagiarism – right up to the moment we find out that Mort himself is the villain! (Secret Window)
We can find the perfect setting, and describe it so colorfully that people can feel the wind on their faces, feel the streets beneath their feet. And we can inhabit our stories with characters so quirky and real, they practically speak for themselves. But until we tap into the emotions we want our readers to feel, we're missing the humanity – the heart – of our stories. Find the heart --- and you'll captivate generations to come.
As one who was born in the middle of the 20th century and grew up with the image of the 21st century as a magical time when we would have flying cars, wrist watch TVs, robot maids and weekly business trips to the moon and Mars, I have to admit that I agree with G'kar. The future didn't turn out quite like we thought.
Some things did come to pass. We might not have gotten wristwatch TV's, but we have button sized TV cameras and we carry a phone, music recorder, and web browser in a shirt pocket or purse. On the other hand, space is still the abode of a privileged few and only a couple of years ago did a private individual fly a private space ship into space.
So, what can we learn as writers of speculative fiction from the surprises that the 21st Century dropped on us. I think the lesson is one about change. When it comes to change when writing our stories of the future we have to consider three things:
1. Some things change rapidly
2. Some things change slowly
3. Some things don't change at all
Some things change rapidly
Technology changes most rapidly. Just 25 years ago I bought my first computer. It was a TRS-80 Color Computer. It had a big 4k bytes of memory. My PDA has about 50,000 times that. The World Wide Web didn't even exist 20 years ago, now few homes in industrialized countries don't have internet access.
As science fiction writers, we tend to love this Gee Whiz factor of change. One thing we must never forget, though, stories are not about gadgets, they are about people. Some writers become obsessed with telling every detail of the design of the hyperspace drive and then drop in a crew of stereotyped characters (loveable rogue, stunning female scientist/princess/warrior, pure as snow adventurer, wise-cracking robot, etc.) to pilot the ship through a predictable plot. And they wonder why their stories don't get published. People will forgive naive science if the characters connect with them.
Ride the change, but always ride it with some interesting characters and your reader will want to ride along.
Some things change slowly
I am often amused when I see cities of the future set in the later 21st century which are totally alien in appearance. It's as if someone went through and bulldozed the town. I don't doubt that most of the Victorian mansions I grew up with in my hometown of Eureka will still be standing 50 or 75 years from now. I doubt that they will tear down the Empire State Building, the TransAmerica Tower, or the Eiffel Tower to make way for postmodern glass towers.
You can make a reader feel at home if you can take a bit of home with you into the future. Remembering again, Babylon 5, security chief Garibaldi watched Daffy Duck and Road Runner cartoons. To think that they would survive into the 23rd century may stretch credulity, but then we still watch the buffoonery of the Barber of Seville and the comedies of Shakespeare were the sit-coms of his day. The pop culture of one era becomes the classical heritage of the next.
Language probably is changing more slowly now than at any other time in history. Language in the past morphed into dialects and patois of various regions through isolation. But there are few places in the industrialized world that are isolated today. That means a general standardization of language. Certainly, slang and colloquialisms will appear be discarded, be changed, reappear and disappear throughout history, but the standard language, aside from terms referring to new technology has changed little in the past 100 years or more.
Spicing up the dialog with some well chosen futuristic slang helps a story, but making the language practically a code to be broken doesn't help much.
Some things never change
For the most part basic human nature doesn't change much. We all have a need for security, acceptance, love, self-expression and God's love. That won't change in 100 or 1000 years. We will continue to struggle with the desire to do well but not being able to do it. Paul had that struggle 2000 years ago and I had it this morning.
One final thing will not change. God still loves us and, to quote Bill Bright, has a wonderful plan for our lives. Whether I ever get my flying car or wristwatch TV, knowing that God's love for me never changes helps me look ahead each day with hope.
By Stoney M. Setzer
As most middle-school students could tell you, fiction has three major components: plot, characters, and setting. Setting, of course, refers to the time/space backdrop in which the characters act out the plot of the story.
Depending upon what genre a given story or novel falls into, we tend to expect certain sorts of settings. For example, when we think of a mystery story, we may think of police departments, locked rooms, or offices belonging to seedy private investigators. If we think of espionage stories, we usually think of exotic, faraway locales frequented by the glamorous and wealthy--the sorts of places that Joe and Jane Average will only see on TV or in books. Although these are obviously not the only places where such stories can happen, these settings are so linked with their genres that they almost become stereotypical.
Likewise, we have our own stereotypical settings in speculative fiction. Outer space, alien planets, medieval kingdoms, or creepy mansions tend to dominate most people’s ideas of spec-fic settings. Although there is nothing wrong with such oft-employed settings (depending on the needs of a given plot, I’ve used some of them myself), I’d like to take a moment to encourage everyone to consider shattering the setting stereotype.
THE TZ FACTOR
One of the biggest influences in my writing has been that of classic Twilight Zone reruns. Several years back I tried to determine what it was about that series that made such a lasting impression upon me. I came up with a lot of possibilities: The inventive storytelling, the twist endings…and, believe it or not, the settings.
Sure, some of the episodes took place on distant planets, but most of them didn’t. The majority of them dealt with ordinary people, in ordinary settings, who have something extraordinary happen to them. A prime example is one of its most famous episodes, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (the Shatner-on-a-plane episode). It took a relatively mundane setting, that of flying cross-country on an airplane, and made it unforgettable by sticking a gremlin on the wing.
Because of the setting, the viewer is left with a man-that-could-happen-to-anybody feeling.
That is exactly the sort of effect I shoot for in my stories. My plots fall squarely into the spec-fic category, but I try to set the plots in places that are familiar to average people so as to bring the events as close to home as possible. Such strategy also involves using average people as my characters, but that’s another topic for another blog.
WRITE ABOUT WHERE YOU KNOW
All of us have been told at least once to write about what we know. My challenge is to write about where you know.
I have spent thirty of my thirty-three years in Griffin, GA, a town of about 25,000 people situated approximately 40 miles south of Atlanta. Although I have never called my hometown by name in my stories--and indeed, I usually have different town names in each story--Griffin and the surrounding area is what I picture. Sometimes I may be picturing one of the “mill villages” scattered throughout town, or I may envision the large research area that the University of Georgia has here if a laboratory of some sort figures into my tale. Either way, it gives me a sort of ready-made stage for my plots and characters.
Some may think that this is a “lazy” way to create a setting, but I take the opposite viewpoint. To me, it takes more creatively to tell a story about aliens or supernatural events in a small Southern town than it does to tell the same story on another planet (or even in a big city here on Earth). It forces me to be more creative, because I have to think of logical reasons why the story should happen in such a parochial place, as well as how the story can believably unfold in that setting. Really, it’s a challenge, and it carries the pay-off of hitting closer to home.
That’s my two cents’ worth. Authors, give it a shot. Try setting your next spec-fic story in your own backyard.
Because of the recent release of Flashpoint: Book One of the Underground, and the June release of Light at the Edge of Darkness, I've been entrenched in the marketing mindset. Gotta do a book blog tour I hear from all corners. Well, I've learned a couple of things, a. organizations like the CFBA and the CSFF don't like to tour anthologies—they aren't popular reading amongst their bloggers; and b. the CFBA doesn't tour non-CBA books. (FYI: David Brollier's CFRBlog does tour anthologies AND they are not CBA-exclusive. Kudos Mr. Brollier). But, I ask my publisher, what good does it do?
The virtual book tour or blog tour is a worthwhile endeavor for name and brand recognition, but is it worth the effort? what are the tangible results? The CFBA (Christian Fiction Blog Alliance) is a very popular blog tour organization. How do they judge the impact of their book tours? By Technorati ratings—which may or may not translate into book sales. I think many novelists are under the impression that scoring high in the Technorati ratings means a book is selling.
The blog tour strategy certainly has the potential to bring exposure to a writer and her novels, and therefore a greater likelihood that sales will follow. But, it is far more likely to be successful with well-known names than the relatively unknown author. The Southern Review of Books did some case studies about the effects of blog tours; they used Amazon rankings as their sales indicator. The upshot, after an initial spurt of book buying, the book sales languished as early as a couple of weeks after the tours. One example:
Our second subject was Marta Stephens, who had a virtual tour starting July 31 and running through August. Her tour was aimed at promoting Silenced Cry, a 248-page paperback detective crime mystery released in April 2007 by BeWrite Books in the UK. She targeted 16-18 sites that claimed membership of 15,431 in aggregate, doing the setup work herself.
How did her tour fare? On Aug. 23, Silenced Cry had an Amazon ranking of 843,750. By Sept. 21, a month later, it had slipped to 1,210,025.
COMMENTS on story above:
It was fun reading about my virtual book tour--but you missed the best Amazon ranking for Judgment Fire during the tour, it was 105,763 - the lowest any of my books ever hit. The reason had to be the virtual tour. (Southern Review of Books, November 2007)
You can turn the blog tour into a real marketing advantage. Encourage blog readers to purchase your book on a specific day and give your amazon.com rank a shot in the arm. Who knows, your book could hit the bestseller ranks for a day which means you can call yourself a bestselling author! On Monday evening (though I wasn't on any blog tour), I hit a new high on amazon. I was a kinda' bestseller. Number 12. Wonderful? Well, considering what my rank was based upon, not really. Here is what it looked like: #12 in Books > Religion & Spirituality > Fiction > Science Fiction & Fantasy. The longer the list behind "Books" the less impressive is a #12 ranking. Big deal.
I learned something else about blog tours. There is money in it! well, not for the author or publisher, and certainly not for the blog owners who do so much work to help promote the novel. Where is the money? in pockets of publicity companies. One of the main Christian companies states on their website: authors have reported significant increases in book sales as a result of the exposure received from our blog tours. For the first time ever, we're offering the tours as a separate item from our comprehensive publicity plans. [Note they don't make any claims about success] Oh yes, they were keen on setting up a book blog tour for me. At $1750 a pop (which doesn't include the cost of books that my publisher has to supply)? I don't think so.
The blog tours did bring some exposure to Flashpoint and I am very grateful for all the folks who participated—I do know how much time and effort are put into the tours by these generous people. I guess the lesson learned is not to put all MY efforts and time into one basket.
Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to email Oprah. Oh, and on the heels . . . I am setting up my own company: BBTRU (Book Blog Tours R Us) and undercut the abovementioned company.
Disclaimer: the previous paracgraph was laced in sarcasm.
by Lyn Perry
I'm a reader. Just an average, middle-of-the-road, target market, regular reader. I also try to write, but the following tips are from a reader's perspective. If you're a writer, especially one who writes on the web, then these thoughts are for you.
As I tool around the blogosphere I look for interesting things to read. I know you all aren't writing for me. And that's fine. But if you are looking for your everyday, run-of-the-mill, overall blog surfer, then might I suggest you look for ways to keep me scrolling instead of clicking away?
A Short List on How to Keep My Attention, Not!
10. Punctuate. Every. Word.
9. Foget to proov for typoes.
8. always use lwr case and abrv alot
7. Capitalize random WORDS for emphasis.
6. Link successive words.
5. "Use plenty of Tom Swiftys," someone once said generously.
4. Use #!@& symbols for emotions :grin:
3. Punctuate excessively!!!!!!
2. Leave your sentences hanging...
1. Use trendy cliches, not!
Bloggers take all sorts of liberties when it comes to posting what they've written. People call it "style" - and that's perfectly all right. The 'sphere is open to everyone. It's just that some regular, keep-it-standard type of readers like me are easily annoyed and simply move on to something more readable.
My advice, if you don't want someone like me to hear what you have to say, employ most of the bad writing tips above. It's as good as not saying it. And maybe worse.
Lewis says, 'A good test for every reader of every kind of book is asking whether he often re-reads the same story.' He ponders why someone would re-read a story if he already knows what will happen. Just what compels him, since he can't be curious and excited by the suspense of not knowing the hero's outcome, or the resolution of a conflict? He claims it is due to "a sort of poetry."
"The re-reader is looking not for actual surprises, but for a certain surprisingness. The point has often been misunderstood . . . . In the only sense that matters, the surprise works as well the twentieth time as the first. It is the quality of unexpectedness, not the fact that delights us. It is even better the second time . . . . we are at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness. The children understand this well when they ask for the same story over and over again, and in the same words. They want to have the surprise of discovering that what seemed Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother is really the wolf. It is better when you know it is coming: free from the shock of actual surprise you can attend better to the intrinsic surprisingness of the peripeteia." (sudden change or reversal of fortune--yes, I had to look that up!)
Ah, I like this: "The plot--as we call it--is only really a net whereby to catch something else." Well, what it that something else we strive to create in our stories, to make them memorable and re-read by loyal readers? Lewis says, "The real theme may be, and perhaps usually is, something that has no sequence in it, something other than a process and much more like a state or quality. Giantship, otherness, the desolation of space, are examples that have crossed our path . . . . this internal tension in the heart of every story between theme and plot constitutes, after all, its chief semblance to life." Lewis concludes that we should be trying to catch in our net of successive moments [plot] something that is not successive, some bird of quality or essence that will linger and hopefully move the reader on a deep level. That is what makes us re-read books.
One of the complaints I often hear from editors regarding science fiction and fantasy is that the writer spends time creating an alternate world, drumming up bizarre unpronounceable names for characters and locale, and spinning wild stories that she (the editor) cannot relate to. Lewis remarks that the setting matters little. You can have the same dangers--cold, hunger, hardship--in your backyard as you can on the moon. It is so tempting for us to get lost in these worlds we create and forget that what the reader is looking for goes beyond that created world and that exciting plot.
Our challenge as Christian writers of fantasy is to present that quality or essence, weave it through the story, touch some human nerve, stir up a need. For me, it is the need for God, for truth, that I try to stir up without naming it. A longing, a hunger, a thirst for the only source that can satisfy. This is our challenge and our joy--to write, not just for fun, but to be used in a special, clandestine way, sent on a secret mission with a message of great hope and joy. And when you think about it--this message of the good news of never-ending, glorious life is like an outrageous, unbelievable tale. But like Lewis said, the difference is that it is a true myth. How great is that?
To clarify, no where, either here or in the forum, has anyone said Christians are obligated to write anything, theme-wise or otherwise.
All I've ever said is Christian writing of any sort is one where the author is submitted to God, as the Church teaches we should be, and has written what He told them (lead them) to write. The material might be wholly secular if judged by the world's measures rather than the biblical measure of the author's relationship with Christ.
As I've said, all books, whether Christian or Non-Christian, have a message and can be measured for Truth by the scripture apart from any regards for genre, personal preferences, or target audience. But that is a whole different topic.
Again, what makes your work Christian or not has nothing to do with the words on the page in and of themselves, and everything to do with your relationship to God and submission to Him in this area of your life. If anyone here really, truly doesn't want to Christ to be Lord over your writing and hence are convinced He doesn't care--you're free to make that choice, whoever you are. I do not say this to condemn you. We all have areas that we struggle to lay down control of to God, but still we remain His. I do pray that someday you will become willing to lay this crown down at His feet, but that is still up to you.
Though, one chief barrier is we tend to fear He'll demand the writer's version of being a foreign missionary, which is why stuff no one here is saying keeps getting refuted. In reality, He's probably already positioned you where He wants you. He just wants you to scoot over and let Him at the keyboard; or for Country music fans, to let Jesus take the wheel.
But, I've said more than enough. Please everyone, debate this with Him. I'm finished.
As you can imagine, the opinion varied according to one's experiences. It really is a personal choice, so my answer today is not a statement of how it should be, but how it seems to have worked for me.
My motto is "fiction, faith and fun," yet I never intended to be labeled as a Christian writer. For the first part of my career, my works were predominantly secular--and I still think of most of my writing that way. The fact that there are Christian or Catholic characters is not usually a conscious choice; and when it is, it's often because the character demands it or because it makes for an interesting twist.
My DragonEye, PI, character is a good example. I wanted a dragon character--and what's a dragon without a St. George? Well, wouldn't it be fun if instead of killing him, George converted him--or at least compelled his obedience… Before I knew it, Vern the dragon was not only attending Catholic Mass but had a nun for a partner. I've written several stories with them and have their first book, Magic, Mensa and Mayhem coming in early 2009 by Swimming Kangaroo.
Then there's the Rescue Sisters world my husband Rob and I created. We just thought it'd be fun to have nuns in space--no real message except the understanding that humankind won't outgrow religion. Those stories led us to create Leaps of Faith, a Christian sci-fi anthology; and Infinite Space, Infinite God--an anthology of thought provoking science fiction with a Catholic twist. ISIG came out in August by Twilight Times Books and Leaps of Faith is coming Summer 2008 from The Writers' Café Press.
The Writers' Café Press is a Christian publisher, but both ISIG and Magic, Mensa and Mayhem are being published by secular publishers. (In fact, the publishers at Swimming Kangaroo are atheists.) I'm neither proud of not surprised by this, really. I write for fantasy/sci fi readers. Well, not even that, really. I write for the characters and for me. And who it impresses, I leave to God.
What has surprised and impressed me, however, is how God has used my writing. I've been told both in reviews and personal letters how touched people are by the expressions of faith in the storesin Infinite Space, Infinite God. I've also been told how the stories have not only challenged people to think about their faith. One mother said every Christian teen should read this book because the stories examined issues they would face in the future, while a Catholic mom told me her daughter found answers to some of her faith questions in the stories. Rob and I compiled ISIG for fun; the only "educational" value we thought it had was in the introductions, but people are being touched--mind and soul--by the stories themselves.
So where do I stand on the "Christian writing" issue? I am a Catholic Christian. I am a writer. They are a part of my identity. They mix when they mix, but I won't limit my writing to only Catholic works any more than I'd limit my worship to only writing. I craft my words as well as I can, then get them to readers in whatever venue God brings my way. I trust that if I have done my best, God will make sure they get to the right hands--and He'll surprise me in the process.
Building off what Karen said in our last post, from the responses I get when I suggest what separates "Christian Writing" from "Non-Christian Writing" isn't what we write so much as Who we are writing for, it's evident how many of us truly are waffle brains: Secular and Sacred are in separate compartments,with each area of our lives clearly defined in our minds and totally separate from the other. In this mindset, God takes up residence in His very own compartment marked "Sacred", which leaves the person especially prone to thinking that God only is concerned about, relevant to, the stuff in His compartment.
Which means despite years of singing, "You are my all in all" and "In all I do, I honor you" ("Amazing Love") on an unconscious level, many think that means, "You are all in all in my religious life, as for the rest, that's why you gave me a Brain," and "In all I do in explicitly spiritual activities, I honor you."
To this mindset, the natural assumption is, if Christians must honor God in all we write, then all we write must fit explicitly in our Sacred box, and, apparently, be fit for CBA markets. Not so.
As my husband Adam put it on the Guild's discussion:
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men,Personally, I want "In all I do, I honor you" to be a summation of my life. But frankly, I'm an alcoholic's daughter. Like most daughters of alcoholics, I have some serious control issues--as anyone who has known me more than half an hour probably already knows. Left to my own devices, I want things my way, and if I don't get it, I might just go off to pout and stew about it a good long while. Taking my hands off the wheel and trusting Him enough to let him have control is something I don't always find easy to say the least. For me, one of the most difficult verses in the bible to live out is Proverbs 3:5,6 "Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (The From Andrea's Memory Version).
Now, I would note that the verse [ Colossians 3:23] doesn't say, "Do all religious work." Indeed, the Bible was written to poor folks who were shepherds and other equally unglamourous secular position. Most were not priests or teachers. They had secular sheep, secular lawns to tend, etc.
The challenge is to do things as unto God. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
" What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; (Go ahead) sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well."
So doing it as unto the Lord implies a certain quality of your work. It also implies a certain set of standards. If a man claims to be a Christian and he is dishonest in his dealings as a car dealer, has he sinned? Is he doing things as unto the Lord? Does it please God?
These are questions we have to ask ourselves about our writing. Is it pleasing or displeasing to God? Is it of a high quality? What our motives. Is it Solo Deo Gloria (as J.S. Bach put it) or Solo Us Gloria?
As to the issue of work, even secular works as ministry or worship, I would say that we far too often limit our understanding and definition of what ministers to the soul. Laughter does good like a medicine, but who among us would see the ministry of a Christian comedian doing a clean secular routine? No altar call, no request to make a decision for Christ. Just a bunch of jokes about family and life, and things that provide comfort to souls wearied and burdened down by stressful jobs and difficult family situations?
The waitress in the restaurant can often minister to someone, can change their whole day some times. As someone who works in Customer Service, I've heard a few times. All too rare, few see the chances they have. Most see a job that feeds them and allows them to buy stuff, but God wants more for us than that. You don't have to be an evangelist, but there are little things that minister in ways most of us don't understand.
The difficulty I have, and many of us have, doesn't stop when we sit down at the keyboard to write. In fact, I've found the more I learn the craft, the harder not trusting my understanding of it but rather submitting to His leading becomes. The hardest thing He could ask me to do, writing-wise, is to break one of my "sacred" rules (such as, thou shalt not write in first person multiple. Though He knows our strengths: I probably won't be asked to not write in POV any time soon, but I need to be open to it if for some reason He did.)
Americans in general, I've found, have a hard time with not leaning on our own understanding, especially as relates to the God-box. Most of us still talk about honoring God in everything and Him being all in all. We usually still talk about writing to please Him, not man--especially when being critiqued. But the behavior of the American Church indicates most of us are in the camp of: "God gave me a brain. God only is concerned with explicitly Sacred things, so I only need to seek Him in regards to those things. Secular things He wants/expects me to handle myself using the whits and natural wisdom He gave me."
Now, if I'm not careful, I start thinking that way, too. But, Brethren, that notion isn't of God. God gave the Israelites a Law chock full of rules dictating practically every aspect of their lives at least in part to disprove that lie. Whether we write in the secular market or the explicitly Christian market, and even when we're writing company reports, news reports, or technical manuals for our day job, when we sit down at the keyboard, God wants us to "scoot over" as recording artist Mark Shultz put it--and let Him work through us.
You know what? I've found God often is faithful to our covenant even when I'm neglectful. You don't know how many times when editing something I wrote, something reaches out and speaks into my life as writing only does when God's had His hand in it--even when I'd neglected to specifically invite Him to when I wrote that.
Again, "Christian writing" can't rightly be defined in terms of the actual content of what we write. Rather, in the simplest of terms, it is our relationship with Christ that truly defines our work. Where we are not fully surrendered to Him, that shows in our writing whatever the genre. Yet, even at the same time, where we are walking in right relationship with Him, everything we do, say, and write truly does honor Him--whether sacred or secular. And if that be true, what distinction is there between the sacred and the secular for the Christian?