A Bite from Reality

Posted on behalf of Susan Kirkland

It’s my day to blog and when I received Deb’s sweet reminder on Sunday, I planned to blog about some of the research I did for “Fair Balance” and the fascinating things I learned about demonology and horror – two of my favorite subjects. I tried to schedule an interview with a demonologist, but, like a lot of my plans this week, it just didn’t materialized.

When I realized that my quiet week at the Calhoun Times was turning into 10-12 hour days, I began praying about what to write how to get it done. I prayed and I didn’t want to listen when God put the subject on my heart. It has nothing to do with writing, per se, other than my main stories this week were requested by several local newspapers.

It has had everything to do with evil and horror, however. About a year and half ago, I asked for prayers while I tried to locate people who would talk to me about a five-year-old little girl who was allegedly beaten to death by her father. Monday morning, I found out the trial would start Tuesday. I have listened to harrowing testimony, I have seen heartbreaking pictures of a five-year-old little girl and I have sat in the same room as evil personified.

I can’t, as a matter of journalistic integrity, say the father and step-mother are guilty. The trial is ongoing and my job isn’t to play jury. BUT, I can say that even if they are found not-guilty, they were given a child to protect and they failed – that much is grossly apparent, even by their own statements. Opening arguments, I literally thought I would throw up – without the aid of the pictures or the testimony of nurses, pathologists, and investigators. I have seen death in its unsanitized state before – bodies hit by trains, drowned, hung, savage automobile accidents, but nothing prepared me for this and I’ve been doing this for 16 years. This week, I have come home and stared at my beautiful five-year-old daughter but the only thing I can see is the body of that little girl. I’m sparing you the details because a part of me has been tainted this week and I don’t want to do that to anyone else. It was tainted by the power of real horror – not the fantasy stuff I pen, nor the freaky stuff Hollywood creates. But real, in the flesh, horror.

I’ve made “Fair Balance” the novel more horror centered than the short story that inspired it. There’s death, demons, some gruesome scenes, but nothing like what I’ve encountered this week. In FB, I’ve made the demons real, visible, but not in human form. This week, I have witnessed testimony showing everything from anger to apathy and I firmly believe that Philatanus, Sonneillon, Verin, and Apollyon* have found their human form and they have left me more than ready to return to fictional demons and fictional situations where I decide when the good guys win and bad guys are cast into pits for God’s judgment.

*for reference, http://the-atlantic-paranormal-society.com/articles/demonology/rank.html -- but it may be more than you really want to know about my week.


SF Anthology Looking For Submissions

Infinite Space, Infinite God, an anthology of thought-provoking science fiction with a Catholic twist, has been showing that well-written religious genre fiction can make it in today's markets. As an e-book, it won the 2007 EPPIE award for best science fiction. Now that it's in print, it's making steady sales in the Catholic and science fiction markets and got terrific reviews in both the Catholic magazine St. Anthony Maessenger and the sci-fi e-zine SFRevu. An even nicer sign of success is when your secular publisher says, "Sure, let's do another!"

So, in anticipation of its success in sales, Karina and Robert Fabian, in conjunction with Twilight Times Books, are taking a leap of faith by compiling Infinite Space, Infinite God II--and we want your stories!

ISIG II will again feature the best of science fiction with a Catholic world view. The guidelines are similar to ISIG I.

1. Stories should be 3,000-10,000 words. We'd like 12-15 stories, plus introductions, so we're looking for variety of lengths.

2. Science Fiction stories only. We're not looking for fantasy. While we're glad to look at the usual plot conventions of SF--time travel, faster-than-light travel, etc.--we do not want Star Trek-type technobabble where real science is available. In all cases, the science should be believable within the story's universe; projections of current science are encouraged. Do not break the laws of physics without a reasonable explanation, or we'll have to call the logic police.

3. Catholic stories only. You don’t need to be Catholic, but your stories do! Characters and/or settings must be genuinely Catholic. Catholic theology and practices must conform to the Magesterium--or have an incredibly good reason to veer! (We'll be tougher about it this time.) This is especially true for any doctrine that is ex cathedra. This does not mean all your characters need to be saints or even Catholic, but that the Church itself is portrayed with the same steadfast morals and doctrine that it has maintained throughout history. Please research any questions: check with a reputable Catholic site online, the Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic priest or deacon. Don't rely on what you remember the nuns telling you in grade school back in 1972.

4. No re-runs. Please read Infinite Space, Infinite God to avoid repeating a story idea/treatment. (You can purchase ISIG at www.twilighttimesbooks.com, www.amazon.com, or from your favorite bookstore; ask your library to order it (Baker and Taylor and Ingrams distribute it), or at least read the synopsis of stories at http://isigsf.com.)

5. Tell a good story. Write well. 'Nuff said.

Here are some of the things we rejected for ISIG I or are wary of for ISIG II:

--Lectures disguised as stories. Purpose Number One of ISIG is to entertain.
--Long sermon/discussion sandwiched between a plot. This includes political as well as religious diatribes. We want to reach a wide audience and while we hope some folks will be touched by the stories, we're not out to evangelize with them.
--Jesus is cloned. Not against it per se, but no one yet has made it work, story-wise.
--Generic Christian with a crucifix. No nuns praying someone will "accept Jesus as his personal savior."
--Telling, not showing. This goes for faith characteristics as well as plot.
--Deus ex machina or Deus ex Deum. If you're going to use a miracle of technology or a regular miracle to resolve your plot complications (as opposed to being part of your plot complications…), you'd better write a really compelling story!
--Black-and-white absolutes. Catholics are good; others are bad. The world has gone to hell--except for the Church. Evil scientists versus good believers. We're trying to break those stereotypes.
--Apocalyptic fiction. Please make sure you know the Catholic understanding of Revelations.

5. No reprints.

6. You may submit more than one story.

How to submit:
Send stories to Karina at karina(at)fabianspace.com. Send it as a Word or .rtf attachment. Type ISIG II in the subject line.


Nuggets of truth from swashbuckling source text

posted for Johne Cook

I have long felt that the line between 'secular' and 'sacred' is an artificial thing, that there is truth to be found anywhere within God's creation. That sentiment has been borne out for me again today as I read a most unusual source for such truths, a swashbuckling sword adventure written in Spanish and translated for English audiences. The book is "Captain Alatriste" by Arturo Perez-Reverte. I found the hardcover version of the book, in a pleasingly slim 248 pages in this format.

I like what the author is doing with this tale. At one place, he introduces a cleric who is a genuine man of God instead of the religious aristocracy intent on wielding the power of the Spanish Inquisition. The cleric is scorned by the religious elite for visiting the taverns and pubs where the 'wicked' were known to congregate. The author writes something interesting coming from the mouth of the cleric, and underlined the phrase in the book and turned back the corner of the page on which the sentiment appeared -- I do not want to lose track of his observation, to whit:

"And when the ecclesiastical superiors reproached him for passing time in the tavern with poets and swordsmen, he responded that saints save themselves, while sinners must be sought out."

This is why I read, to find these nuggets of truth. And that is one method of doing so, having a religious character say things worth saying. I like that he is doing this not as 'Christian fiction' but rather as a storyteller writing to the wider audience than just CBA. It is times like this when I wonder, again, why there must even be 'Christian fiction'. It is a distinction I am growing ever less interested in making for my own writings. Write the story, tell the spiritual truth where appropriate, and go seek out the sinners, for they won't be seeking for me.

Johne (Phy) Cook

"Adam Manero"

Who is behind the shades and polyester leisure suit?


Lost and Found

The following is an introduction to Laser and Sword Magazine.

So, I’ve decided to revive the serial short-story with a long-term two to three year goal of making it commercially viable. I’m a man born after my time, I guess. A nostalgia buff in the extreme: a twenty-seven-year-old who has willingly shelled out money to watch films made before his parents were born. I’m also a man with a vision and a dream.


I’ve always been a nostalgia buff. Every Saturday night, I podcast public domain episodes of the 1950s Dragnet show, which was produced more than 57 years prior. Not only that, I’ve got a growing audience, with an average of about 2,000 downloads a week for the past six weeks.
When the podcast began to catch on, a friend suggested it would be great if I did two Dragnet episodes a week instead of one, so as to alleviate his long wait between shows. I didn’t have the time to do it, but there was a better reason to keep with the one show a week format. It allowed people to be able to step back into time and experience the episodes as those who first heard them did. In essence, what we’ve provided on the Old Time Dragnet show isn’t just the episode plus some commentary, but the actual experience minus commercials.

On top of this, H. Michael Brewer’s Book, “Who Needs a Superhero,” brought home to me the importance of Super Heroes to our nation identity. Spiderman, Batman, Superman, etc. capture the imagination of our culture. Their stories have been told to every American generation for decades. They’re not only compelling heroes, but as Brewer wrote, they are illustrative of many great biblical truths without the writers even intending them to be.

Superheroes can also be a lot of fun. Their adventures are usually more spectacular, more daring, bold, and thrilling than the adventures of regular action heroes. While I remember many great superhero movies and TV shows from my youth, comics have, in many cases, become incredibly dark and border on immoral.

I dreamt of capturing the fun and power of these characters. I spent months wanting to create my own heroes, but unable to come up with compelling characters. Then, a flash of inspiration, and as the 1960s Batman TV show would say, “POW! BOP! BOOM!” a story was born, complete with costumed characters.

What to do with these stories became a challenge. To write them out as a novel didn’t seem right. I wanted people to get a chance to know these heroes before buying a long novel about them.

It was then that I hit on the idea for a magazine of serialized stories. Zorro, Flash Gordon, and many other great characters were introduced through Pulp Fiction magazines in the early part of the 20th century. If it was good enough for them, why not? Of course, serialized short fiction has all but died out. Television and comic books both have inserted their knives. Short fiction magazines have become more intellectual, with one shot characters that are here today and gone tomorrow.

But maybe, it’s ready for a comeback. So, I decided to start a magazine to serve as a forum for Christian serialized short stories.

This quarter’s premier issue not only includes a story from my new hero universe, but also includes the first of a series on A.L. Snyder, an established character I introduced in the anthology Light at the Edge of Darkness.

Thus, with two of my own stories, I had enough to begin a magazine.

The Plan

So, I launched Laser & Sword Magazine with several ideas in mind.

First, I decided to publish Laser & Sword on Lulu. As a POD publisher, Lulu allows me to put my work out with no up front, out of pocket costs.

Second, I launched the Old Time Superman Show featuring episodes from the 1940s Superman radio show, which in most cases were serialized. My thought is that, if people enjoy radio serials, perhaps they’ll enjoy my magazine.

Third, I set up a newsletter that people can subscribe to from the Laser and Sword home page, so they can learn what’s happening with the magazine and development for the next issue.
Fourth, we’re pleased to announce a special blogger subscription rate. To purchase a normal e-issue of Laser and Sword, it’ll cost $1.25 an issue, or $5 for four quarterly issues. With our blogger subscription, bloggers get access to all issues of our zine for $2 a year simply by placing an ad for our magazine on their blog for the life of their subscription. Contact me if you're interested.

Finally, I’m confident enough in the stories that I’m willing to give away the first issue (at least the electronic version), so people can sample the magazine for themselves, get to know the characters, and see if they'd like to follow their adventures.

If You Build It...

Of course, there's always the question of whether I'm serious. Will this work? Can someone actually be successful selling a genre that's been out of style for decades? What's next? A new Adam Graham leisure suit?

Just as people have subscribed to the Dragnet podcast in order to experience the radio show episodes in their original airing order, exactly like those who listened heard them nearly sixty years ago, I think many people would love the experience of episodic fiction: an exciting cliffhanger that leaves you wanting more, fun characters, and a sense of anticipation when you get the next issue. That, not a pdf file or soft cover magazine, is the actual product.

Will our plucky entrepreneur succeed in blending nostalgia together with modern speculative fiction and printing methods? Will he find his audience? Find out in the next thrill packed post from the editor of Laser & Sword.

Apocalypse Now

If I've been rather quiet on the list of late, it's because I've felt a definite spiritual impetus to step back and do some thinking and praying about my writing. Caves in the desert are not readily available when you have a nineteen month-old, but I have a never-ending supply of housework, which is surprisingly conducive to meditation. Folding clothes or washing dishes can be an effective vehicle for contemplation, and it was while doing such chores that today's blog topic occurred to me.

Some of you know that my writing and reading tastes have a definite taste for the apocalypse-- the end of the world as we know it, so to speak. Movies such as Mad Max, the Matrix, or the more recent I Am Legend are perfect examples of well-told apocalyptic tales, the likes of which causes my muse to run happily through the burned-out fields of flowers. Literary greats as far back as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and H. P Lovecraft have penned their visions of the world's end and beyond; a few Christian books are even starting to dip their toes in the genre, such as Terri Blackstock's Restoration series, which chronicles survivor's of a global blackout. So I know I'm not the only one out there who likes to roast marshmallows at a great nuclear bonfire.

The question I asked myself was why the apocalypse? Why should I-- or any other Christian-- spend time in these stark landscapes when we already know good and well how humanity's story ends? It was easy enough to identify why I enjoyed writing or reading the genre. I love a narrative framework that allows me to push my characters to the limits, strip them down to the bare core of what they are, and then show it is still possible to retain grace, faith, and humanity. The Phoenix myth, of destruction and rebirth, has always been a favorite of mine, whether it concerns an individual or an entire society. I am also fascinated by large-scale destruction-- whether it's a volcano or an asteroid or the fall of an empire any other of a dozen apocalyptic scenarios-- and the amazing resilience of the human race, our stubborn capacity for survival. Just look at "little apocalypses" like the New Orleans levee breach or the Indonesian tsunami and you'll find the entire spectrum of human capacity, from indifference , selfishness, and cruelty to sacrifice, heroism, and determination.

But none of this answers the question of why I think apocalyptic fiction, whether explicitly Christian or not, deserves a place on our bookshelves. I think that the genre has a unique capacity to remind us of the true landscape of our fallen world.
In a very real sense, we are all living post-apocalypse. Eden is lost to us. We are not what we once were; we have fallen into a great and terrible ruin no less devastating than a nuclear winter or a desert wasteland. The fact that the spiritual realities of our world are not visible to the naked eye makes it difficult to remember, at times, ours is a broken land. Yes, we can see that if we look at the genocide in Africa or the oppression of women under Middler Eastern Sharia law, but it gets a little harder to see through the illusionary comfort of our modern American lifestyle. We have homes, cars, jobs; beyond the material, we have families, spouses, children. But without the redeeming light of grace, such comforts are no more substantial than a fire burning in a camp of post-apocalyptic nomads. They give warmth but cannot change the utter devastation that surrounds us.

How marvelous, then, the grace that has entered the bleak apocalypse of the Fall and laid open a road, paved with holy Blood, for us to travel through this hollow kingdom to the land of milk and honey! A common theme of apocalyptic literature is that of journey, a quest for a haven that is untouched by the wreck that has consumed all else. The characters are often on an uncertain pilgrimage, facing great odds and danger on the hope of finding a resting place. We who are pilgrims through this world may not face berzerker gangs or zombie hordes but the soul-killers who strive against us are no less brutal. Our pilgrimage, however, is certain in its ending, and our faith is rooted on far more than unsubstantiated hope.
We have the promise that like the Phoenix, a new world will one day rise from the ashes of this skewed wasteland.

Sitting here in my bedroom, writing this by dim lamplight as my daughter sleeps peacefully in our bed, I understand why some people don't want to hear about apocalypses, whether fictional or spiritual. It isn't always easy to see beyond the visible to the true nature of our sin-scorched world, and the truth of the fallen human condition is certainly grim, if you do not know the grace that has been shown us. Even some Christians find it difficult to face the grittier parts of our existence, seeking to pass their pilgrimage in some sort of air-tight bubble that won't let the smell of ash and the sound of weeping disturb their journey.

Others of us, like myself, find solace in the very fact that our world is broken, for we go through life with a sense of incompletion. Even in moments of serenity, of happiness, something in me groans along with the rest of creation, aching at the loss that has befallen us and rejoicing that someday we will be what God intended us to be. If I subscribed to the thought that this present world was the ideal, I would go mad with despair. But knowing that it is a post-apocalypse, the aftermath of a disaster that will one day be made whole again, I journey on with purpose and joy.

Even as I look at my sleeping daughter, I see us in an apocalyptic dimension-- she sleeps in a sling against my chest, warm under my patchwork cloak, as we walk through the gray evening across a cracked and barren landscape. Others are with us; men, women, and children of all races and ages who slowly make our way to a light on the horizon, distant almost enough to be thought a star. The great expanse between is dark, and fierce, but each of us holds a lantern in our hands. To the wretches who look at us from the darkness, we appear as a golden thread, miles and miles of light spun into a trail they may follow and find Home.