Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Publishing Announcement

Two of my stories set in John Valley have been included in a Halloween-themed anthology put out by Oloris Publishing, When the House Whispers.

This is basically my face right now.

You can purchase the anthology here in EPUB or MOBI format.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Do not Go Gentle into that Good Book

I've talked before about stories being more than "just" fiction. The topic came up again recently in a couple of conversations with some friends of mine, and I thought of another angle for the Christian who enjoys stories in all their forms.

There's a spectrum of responses to the idea that stories have the power to affect us. On one extreme lie the folks who say that stories are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs unless they are safe and uplifting, free of all the bits that might make us uncomfortable or indicate anything beyond surface-level sin. On the other end sit the folks who say stories don't affect us in any way, so let's all just enjoy the show, you bunch of kill-joys. (Incidentally, there's a third group which occupies a place at either end of this; this group acknowledges the power of stories, but believes stories can only affect us positively and therefore should be enjoyed without thought or worry.)*

The best stance, from my experience, lies somewhere in the middle. We must acknowledge that stories can affect us, for better or worse. Most of the time, stories will make us happy, help us experience catharsis, or inspire us to think. They are useful for developing our minds and emotions (yes, even the stories with Bad Content).

But sometimes, I think we have to go back to Jesus' words in Matthew 5:29-30 --

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

In context, Jesus is talking about adultery, so the obvious application of these verses is to lust and other internal sins. However, what if it be a story (or type of story) that causes us to stumble? We might imagine Jesus addressing such a situation as follows:
If watching Game of Thrones makes you stumble, don't watch it, regardless of how cool your friends say it is; for it is better to lose the enjoyment of one story than to enjoy it and be separated from Me by it. If reading Harry Potter causes you to stumble, don't read it not matter how your friends insist it's okay; for it is better to miss out on one story than to be separated from Me by it.
Yes, it's an extreme example using a series I cannot personally enjoy (GoT has too much nudity for me to safely enjoy it**, and I don't care for the books because they're so depressing) and a series that I do enjoy (but if for some reason Harry Potter causes you to stumble, don't read/watch it).

But the principle still applies. Addicts, if they are recovering and sober, learn that there are habits, behaviors, and even thought processes they must avoid in order to remain sober. As fallen human beings, sinners saved by grace, Christians must also learn to avoid whatever tempts them or might lead them into sin. These guardrails (to borrow from Andy Stanley's terminology) are not always the same for everyone. While there are many clear statements in Scripture about what is and isn't sin, there are also many more areas of life which are not as black and white. There are large gray areas each person has to establish personal boundaries around in order to avoid sinning.

Stories are one of those areas. If you find yourself enjoying a story, that's wonderful. Keep on reading, watching, listening, or playing. But if you find a story leading you down a mental, spiritual, or emotional path that isn't healthy for you in some way, cut the story out and don't look back. If we can allow ourselves to leave a book because it isn't good (i.e. interesting or well-crated), we can leave it because it isn't good for us.

* On a side note, for either of the "just enjoy it" camps, artistic quality is probably a concern; the "safe and uplifting camp" often tends to sacrifice art for the sake of the cause (protecting readers and viewers from Bad Content).

** This is a personal guardrail of mine; others have already discussed whether the show is safe for Christians in general.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Beautiful Books (A Blog Link-Up with Further Up and Further In)

Currently Writing: Albion book 2
                               NaNoWriMo prep

Currently Reading: A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny
                               Blood Thirst: 100 Years of Vampire Fiction by Leonard Wolf
                               Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
                               Monster by Mirriam Neal

My friend Sky at Further Up and Further In does a blog link-up for writers called Beautiful People every so often that allows writers to delve into their characters and share those insights with each other on their blogs. This month, in anticipation of NaNoWriMo, she's changing it up and making it Beautiful Books instead, so we can all introduce our novels to each other. Since I'm doing a NaNo novel this year that I'm pretty excited about, I decided to participate.

1. How did you come up with the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

The germ of this novel came from listening to RED's album Until We Have Faces a little too often. The more I heard the music, the more I became convinced that there was a somewhat dystopian novel hidden in it, and a few months ago that idea collided with some Wizard of Oz retelling story ideas I'd been toying with, and my NaNo novel was born.

2. Why are you excited to write this novel?

Because it's the first novel that isn't connected to my larger universe of books that I've had the idea for in a while, and because it's come together so well so quickly.

3. What is your novel about, and what is the title?

I've toyed with a few different titles, but the one we've settled on is There's No Place like Home? because it fits both the story (a Wizard of Oz retelling) and the tone/theme.

The story follows Teddy, a young man lost in a strange city with no memory of his past and no understanding of the world he's landed in. As he tries to find his place (his home, if you will), he meets some strange but lovable characters and a few who think they'd be better off if Teddy were anywhere but their city -- including the grave.

4. Sum up your characters in one word each. (Feel free to add pictures!)
Teddy: wanderer

Gloria: Empty

Ariel: Lionheart
Westford: ruthless

Scarecrow: innocent (Not pictured because it's not human or even human-seeming and I haven't worked out what its voice should sound like yet.)

5. Which character(s) do you think will be your favorite to write? Tell us about them! I think 

I'm going to have a hard time picking a favorite because they're all so much fun. Teddy's chapters will be good because he's the main character and gets to explore this world I've built around him. Scarecrow is probably the funniest and also the wisest of them in its own way. Gloria's story is heart-breaking (see what I did there?) and Ariel's just a great person to have with you in  shady city districts. Even some of the side characters are so much fun I have to keep them in control so they don't wreck the story. ;-)

6. What is your protagonist’s goal, and what stands in the way?

Teddy wants to regain his memories and find out who he is and where he belongs. Standing in his way are some powerful people (Westford, pictured above, and his sister Eastman) who see Teddy as a threat to their way of life and the fact that he never seems to be able to stay in any place long enough to dig into his past.

7. Where is your novel set? (Show us pictures if you have them!)

A futuristic city called O.Z. where people are always connected to one of the Nets and no one really moves around.

8. What is the most important relationship your character has?

While Teddy's relationships with the three companions are all important, the one that means the most to me personally is his friendship with Scarecrow, because they're both so ignorant of what this world is like in their own ways and their journeys are so similar on the surface, though they have different  goals and endings.

9. How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

As a famous time traveler once said,

Suffice it to say, Teddy discovers that what he thinks he wants at the beginning may not be his heart's true desire.

10. What themes are in your book? How do you want your readers to feel when the story is over?

Honor and honesty are still valuable. Humbugs shouldn't destroy our faith. Our past is less important than who we choose to be now.

I hope my readers will feel like they've been with Teddy and his friends the whole way and been changed for the better ( ;-) ) by the experience. I hope they will have hope in dark situations because of the hope Teddy and the others express.

NaNoWriMo BONUS: Tell us your 3 best pieces of advice for others trying to write a book in a month.

  1. Write every day. Even when you don't feel like it, and even if you don't have time to reach your word count goal.
  2. Don't let the word counts get you down. (That should be on a mug.)
  3. Gather your supporters, whether they be fellow writers or non-writers, and keep them close for the days when you ask yourself why you were crazy enough to try writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
If you've got a novel in progress, whether for NaNo or not, I encourage you to try this exercise out. It'll help you keep the steam and excitement flowing for your project. If you blog about it, share it with Sky here