The Beast That Will Not Be Tamed

Christian fiction, what is it? Sound familiar? Back in June, I did a short series on the subject. You can find those posts here and here and here and here.

In response to Mike Duran’s comment to yesterday’s post, I’m tempted to quote from those articles and leave it at that, but because Christian fiction is undergoing a significant change, I think this subject can bear further discussion.

You see, I believe if a person holds onto an expectation, then no matter what, the resulting action will be viewed through that lens. Mike’s expectation of Christian fiction is that it is written for Christians and is preachy, so no matter what developments—for good or ill—are taking place on the CBA side of publishing, he continues to see the books coming out of Bethany, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, and company as preachy books for Christians.

First, not all books written for CBA houses are intended for Christians. Until recently the only outlet for these houses was the Christian bookstores. That’s why the publishers came to be known as CBA houses. And the only people who shopped in Christian bookstores were presumed to be Christians. So, yes, when Christian publishers started putting fiction on the shelves, the target audience, if it was defined, was for Christians.

But that isn’t necessarily the case any longer. For one thing, more and more secular sources are selling Christian books. Are they still shelved in the Christian section? Most are, yes, but not all. I first discovered The Door Within Trilogy because the first book was right next to Cornelia Funk’s newest release—face up, on a pile right near the clerk’s desk.

The issue of where Christian fiction should be shelved is actually an issue that those inside the business are addressing with book store people. In other words, change is afoot.

With more access to a secular audience, I suggest more authors published by Christian houses (or the religious arm of a secular house) will target non-Christians. Will those books find their audience? I think there is a way—the same way the Left Behind books found their way to non-Christians. It starts out by Christians giving the books to their non-Christian friends.

But I digress. The other “definition” of Christian fiction has been it’s “poor quality.” This is amusing because early in the last century, mass market paperbacks were decried for the same thing—and roundly condemned by Christians (though often on moral grounds). The plots were formulaic, the characters flat, the themes obvious or non-existent.

Christian fiction received that same “poor-quality” tag. But was Peretti all of that? Amazingly, he came along when Christian fiction—that put out by Christian publishers—was in its infancy. Why not more? Another topic that tempts me to digress, but I’ll resist.

The thing is, what once was does not define what always must be. Christian fiction is “growing up.” I say, let it. This is as difficult as letting a teenager take the car or go on a first date or any number of other firsts parents must stand back and watch.

Some say, What if they become wild? Others say, They’re still babies. In the same way, some Christians are troubled by writing that includes immoral behavior, while others are disturbed by stories that have happy endings.

What we must, MUST learn is that some plant, some water, but God gives the increase. Some writers are all about encouraging and edifying believers. Other writers are all about sowing seeds that lead back to Christ. And some are all about writing entertaining or artistic stories.

I have no quibble with writers in the first two categories. I think I do have an issue with the latter. Mark Bertrand says it is good, honorable work. I don’t discount that. But writing is communication, and I tend to think, when given the chance, a Christian should point to Christ.

NO, I did not say preach Christ. Point to Him. Dramatically or subtly—that’s up to however the Spirit of God leads. But to be silent about Him? Why would someone in love be silent about their engagement, or someone engaged be silent about their fiance?

Published in: on October 31, 2007 at 10:34 am  Comments (3)  

Clawing Up the Mountain of Misinformation

It turns out, the same day Chip MacGregor posted his interview with Dave Horton of Bethany House, INFUZE Magazine posted an article by Nathan Lambes about Christian speculative fiction.

While I agree with Mr. Lambes’ conclusion, he said some things in the article that I think need to be countered. It is in the endless repetition of false ideas that impressions are built or cemented in the minds of readers (who happen to also be the book buyers) and acquisition editors and marketing execs.

Here’s the first statement.

And while the genre has arguably been around since Milton and Bunyan, Christian speculative fiction isn’t selling as well as the work of those two men. And while the writings of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are in vogue, the more recent works of Karen Hancock and Kathy Tyers stay untouched on their shelves.

First, I seriously doubt that Milton and Bunyan are selling particularly well these days! Sure, they have the standing as classics and many students still read them, but as pleasure reading? I doubt it. However, the worst part of the statement is the latter—that Karen Hancock and Kathy Tyers “stay untouched on their shelves.” That’s just plain not true. Would Bethany contract Karen Hancock for another series of books if her earlier ones were “untouched on their shelves”?

I did a little research to see what the current status of those books is at Amazon. Yes, I know some insiders claim Amazon isn’t an accurate way to measure the success of a book. But by using Title Z, you can see the lifetime ranking of a book, and there has been research to show what those numbers mean. From “What’t a Good Sales Rank”:

Less than 100: Best-seller. Author, publisher, agent are all getting rich
101-1000: Extremely good performer. Any publisher/author would be thrilled.
1001-10,000: Very successful book. A few of these can sustain a small publishing company.
10,001-50,000: A successful book by most industry standards.
50,001-100,000: Not bad.
100,000 – 500,000: Not good.
500,000 or more: Poor.

Admittedly, Kathy Tyers’ Firebird-A Trilogy, with a current ranking of 141,000, is selling in the Not Good range, but then the book is four years old. Karen Hancock, on the other hand, has four titles currently within or hovering near the “successful book” ranking, while the lifetime (the average includes the months Amazon listed them before release) of the books is just outside the Not bad rating.

Clearly, someone is “touching” these books.

Personal anecdote. In 2004, after discovering Light of Eidon, I requested our church librarian purchase the book. She did. Without me making any other request, she proceeded to purchase the other books in the Guardian-King series. I can only suppose that other readers of the first book requested the next ones in the series, because certainly there aren’t dollars to waste in our church library budget for books no one wants to read.

But back to the INFUZE article. I noticed that Mr. Lambes didn’t mention any of the newer authors. How does he explain the incontrovertible success of Donita Paul, Wayne Batson, Bryan Davis?

But there’s more.

The second function is of an evangelistic nature. These are the Christian novels that cross over into the secular mainstream and preach loud the gospel of Christ. One doesn’t have to think hard to call up images of the Left Behind frenzy from a scant few years ago.

I won’t go into another of my rants right now, but it is apparent that Mr. Lambes, like so many writers, doesn’t understand that fiction can have a Christian theme without having an “evangelistic” purpose and without “preaching loud” the gospel of Christ. Ironically he says the alternative is to make the message so obscure no one gets it.

simply by merit of going through a Christian publisher such as Tyndale, Westbow, or Bethany House one is almost doomed to a presence on only the shelves of Christian bookstores, limiting evangelistic potency. Add this to the fact that the Christian thematic elements in Christian speculative fiction are either too overt to be palatable by a non-believing audience or too vague to have an impact and you have a genre that is effectively evangelistically neutered.

First, I wonder if Mr. Lambes has looked for any Christian fantasy in Borders or Barnes and Noble of late. Wayne Batson just posted about his book signing in Texas at a HUGE Borders. And if memory serves me correctly, the Fantasy Four Tour included a number of not-Christian bookstores. However, in response to the point of the quote, my question is, do readers have any confusion about what Herman Melville believes about God after finishing Moby Dick? Why is it that a non-Christian can write using symbols and types that are not misunderstood, but somehow a Christian doing so is considered to be doing just a self-sacrifice story like so many other writers? OK, the rant is rising up, so I’ll move on. 😉

Here’s a statement in the article, I just don’t understand. Perhaps one of you can enlighten me.

Christian speculative fiction is by Christians, for Christians. While I’m sure any author would love to have their stories read and appreciated by a secular audience, the price they would have to pay to make them appealing to that group would be too high.

What price is he referring to—the watering down of the Christian themes? I suppose that’s it, but I completely disagree. The price we have to pay to have a secular audience read our stories is to write good ones, engaging ones that anyone will love. Look at Narnia. Not only Christians read Narnia. How many non-Christians came to an understanding of what Jesus did at the cross because of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? It’s an indeterminate number, but that doesn’t mean it is a non-existent group. And this would not happen if those people found a bad story. The story has to be well crafted, which means the theme also must be well crafted.

Is the price of writing good stories too high? I’ll admit, sometimes it feels very high. Sometimes I wish I could settle for something that would be a guaranteed sale or that I could actually finish, no matter if the work has some snags here and there! 😮 Writing epic fantasy while you’re trying to learn to write fiction is not a path I recommend to ANYONE!

In the end, though, I don’t believe God calls writers to anything short of writing the best “good stories” we’re capable of.

Let me get to the conclusion of the article:

Positive word of mouth is a huge factor in the success of a book, and in this case, the word isn’t being spread. And since we’re already talking about a small market that’s having problems raising money, it doesn’t have the funding to help get that word around through conventional advertisement.

Well, again he’s missed the point—the Fantasy Four Tour this past summer, CSFF Blog Tours, Latest In Spec, the Lost Genre Guild, Where the Map Ends, Christian Fandom, Spec Faith—these and many other efforts ARE making a difference … or Reuters wouldn’t be interviewing Wayne Batson and Christopher Hopper.

In the end it is up to the readers to decide. It’s survival of the fittest out here.

And with this statement, I agree. Which is why I am holding the Fantasy Challenge II. Readers need to let their friends know what books they like and should buy, and they need to tell their bookstores what books they should put on their shelves. In the end—on the human level, at least—it does boil down to us buying books.

More-Fantasy Monday

Saturday Chip MacGregor posted an interview with Bethany House Publishing exec Dave Horton. To the question, What changes do you see in Christian fiction, Mr. Horton elaborated on the redefinition of the genre, then said this:

Recent encouraging signs: Fantasy fiction has a small but growing audience,

Well, I don’t know whether to be excited because he said the audience was growing or to be disturbed because he still thinks it’s small.

Fact: fantasy continues to flourish in the general market. The end of the Harry Potter series does not indicate the end of the public’s infatuation with the genre. We still have the movie Prince Caspian coming out, and unfortunately, a movie by the self-styled anti-Lewis, Philip Pullman.

Granted, dragon type stories seem to have run their course. But fantasy has broadened.

Opinion: to say the audience is “small” means that a) the majority of Christians who enjoy fantasy must be buying ABA books; or B) Christians are just so apart from the general society, they have their own separate aesthetic taste. To some degree the latter might be true—though I would say the issue is moral taste, not aesthetic. But clearly, publishers don’t really believe this is so or they wouldn’t be so ready to publish suspense, thrillers, and mysteries.

Fact: Christian fantasy has captured the attention of the media, evidenced by the front page Washington Post article about the genre this past July, the follow-up Fox and Friends interview with Wayne Thomas Batson (The Door Within Trilogy and Isle of Swords, Thomas Nelson), and the recent Reuters interviews with Christopher Hopper (The Lion of Vrie Chronicles, Tsaba House) and Batson. Depending on what news outlets air the interviews, these books could be in serious demand.

Fact: While Bethany house is marketing Robin Parrish’s superhero books as thrillers, and making plans to market Karen Hancock’s (winner of four Christy Awards in the Allegory/Fantasy/Visionary category) new sci fi/fantasy series as a thriller, other publishers are quietly releasing more fantasy titles.

Besides the Thomas Nelson books and those put out by WaterBrook I’ve noted at various times (The DragonKeeper Chronicles, Donita Paul; Auralia’s Colors, Jeffrey Overstreet; On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Andrew Peterson; the re-release of the two Birthright Project books by Kathryn Mackel), Creation House, a division of Strang Communications, published Mackel’s latest release, Vanished, and Zondervan will release in June 2008 the first in a fantasy series by Bryan Davis.

Smaller presses are producing fantasy titles as well. Need I remind anyone of B & H’s Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers, R. K. Mortenson’s Landon Snow books put out by Barbour, Harvest House’s Trophy Chase Trilogy by George Bryan Polivka, or Sharon Hinck’s The Sword of Lyric series published by NavPress? P & R continues putting out L. B. Graham’s Binding of the Blade fantasy series. AMG has acquired a juvenile four-book fantasy series about to release, as well as the highly successful Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire series by Davis.

Notice, up until now I’ve made no mention of Ted Dekker’s books or Frank Peretti’s—more accurately labeled supernatural suspense rather than fantasy, but clearly falling within the parameters of speculative fiction. How is it that the “small audience” interested in this genre has made these authors best-sellers?

Next month the CSFF Blog Tour will feature Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson). I was curious how this story, constructed from the legend of Robin Hood would be marketed. Answer: as fantasy. You can find it and a long list of other Lawhead titles right there at the Thomas Nelson Web site under the Sci fi/fantasy subdivision.

I have no ax to grind against any particular publishing house certainly. I applaud Mr. Horton for recognizing that the demand for Christian fantasy is growing. I suggest that readers are finally becoming aware of the existence of Christian fantasy and thus the growth. May this trend continue, and may no acquisition editor be dissuaded from acquiring fantasy titles by the idea that the audience is “small.”

Published in: on October 29, 2007 at 9:53 am  Comments (12)  

Fantasy Friday – The First

This may be the first and last Fantasy Friday. I’m not big on planning to discuss a specific subject on a set day, but I did like the alliteration. 😀 Plus, I had several items of interest to report (be sure to read all the way to the end on this one).

First, on the Need-Prayer front. Kathryn Mackel, author of the Birthright Project (Outriders and Trackers) and the newly released Vanished, among others, had an accident during a recent trip and shattered her shoulder. After emergency surgery, she returned home where she is recovering.

It’s amazing to me because, as you may know, Karen Hancock, author of The Guardian-King series, recently broke her arm. Then as she worked one-handed, she developed carpal tunnel.

OK, not a fantasy writer, but in the what’s-with-the-broken-bones category, Brandilyn Collins, who broke her leg in a snowmobile accident, recently had (another) surgery to remove the pins. Her mobility is once again restricted.

So suddenly writing has become a hazardous profession! Seriously, as you think of it, please do pray.

More fantasy news. In the fantasy-continues-to-sell category: George Bryan Polivka author of The Trophy Chase Trilogy (Harvest House) reports that Book Two, The Hand That Bears the Sword, released in July, has gone into its second printing. You may already know, books that do well in those first three months catch the eye of those in the business end of things, so this is especially good news for those of us who would like to see more publishing houses put out more fantasy. OK, and science fiction! (We are in this together, Spec brothers and sisters!)

By the way, Book Three, The Battle for Vast Dominion is due out in January.

In the what-are-they-thinking category, the report is that Bethany House Publishing will market Karen Hancock’s next series, a sci fi/fantasy along the lines of her first book, Arena, as a thriller. Say what? I am baffled by Bethany’s treatment of speculative fiction. This is the publisher that has, in many respects, led the way in Christian fiction. So why this reticence to embrace the hottest genre going?

Interesting development. Agent Chip MacGregor interviewed Gina Holmes, creator of Novel Journey. His first question?

Gina, what writing trends are you seeing in fiction at Novel Journey?

And her answer? She started with

We’re seeing more fantasy,

I can testify to this as well. The CSFF Blog Tour is considering two new authors with WaterBrook. I just got the ARC yesterday for Andrew Peterson‘s novel, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. From the back cover:

Once, in a cottage above the cliffs on The Dark Sea of Darkness, there lived three children and their trusty dog Nugget. Janner Igiby, his brother, Tink; and their crippled sister, Leeli, are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang who have crossed the Dark Sea to rule the land with malice.

That’s enough to give you a flavor.

In the category of exciting-marketing-development, Christopher Hopper and Wayne Thomas Batson reported that their agents informed them a week or so ago that they had an interview in New York with Reuters. This is what Christopher said on his blog:

For those that don’t know, Reuters is to TV what the Associated Press is to newspapers. The entire story on Christian Fantasy will air worldwide on the Reuters News Network and be serviced to any local station that uses Reuters feeds.

OK, THAT’S exciting! 😀

Published in: on October 26, 2007 at 11:24 am  Comments (4)  

Small Conference—Huge Reward

I’m growing quite fond of small writing conferences. This past weekend I attended the local ACW (American Christian Writers) conference. It ran for two days, offering some twenty hours of instruction or interaction with writers and, in this instance, an agent.

Yep, an agent, one highly respected in the CBA. I’m referring to Steve Laube. (Funny man—he refers to the hotel lobby as the narthex because … well, Lobby/Laube. He feels proprietary, I suppose. 😉 )

I went to this particular conference because I wanted some feedback on my trilogy proposal. Got that and much, much more.

You see, the teacher of the fiction track was one James Scott Bell, writer of contemporary thrillers and historical suspense. This is the writer who delivered the keynote speech at the recent ACFW conference. That would be the one with some 400 attendees. I sat in a room with about 15 other fiction writers, soaking up fiction principles that went beyond the beginning techniques you might expect at a small conference.

But there’s more. On the second day, I sat in on Steve Laube’s workshops dealing with the business side of writing—acquiring an agent and what to expect from that relationship as well as marketing instruction.

I still haven’t told you the best. Both Jim Bell and Steve Laube delivered “Plenary” speeches that were excellent. Jim’s was called Brain Surgery for Dummies. (I couldn’t help wondering if this might be one of the talks he gave at ACFW). One notable line, which I think he was quoting from another source:

Great art comes from passion, but without craft, it is just enthusiasm.

Steve Laube spoke to the group twice. The first was on The Power of the Book. Some notable lines from this talk include:

A book is the only way you can explore a fragile idea without worrying about breaking it.


If truth is not defused, error will be.

It was quite inspiring. The next day, however, he exceeded that talk with Lose Wait the Write Way. He looked at the question, What are you waiting for? from the angle of the verb, waiting, the subject, you, and the object what. He placed all this in the context of our instant-gratification society versus what God calls us to and wants to accomplish.

Great reminders, so much so that I ordered the CD’s of all three. These are the kinds of talks a writer should hear over and over, just to stay focused.

OK, I have to admit, there was also just a fun part—hanging out with writers … and the agent 😀 . Friday I caught up with Merrie Destefano, a frequent visitor here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. We talked about her work as an editor, writing speculative fiction, craft, and who knows what all else. By the way, she is one of Steve Laube’s clients, so during the Night Owl they talked a bit about how he finally agreed to represent her after ten years of her persistence (they both called it “stalking” 😮 )

I also had a fun conversation with a non-fiction writer whose proposal Steve snapped right up. His topic is Faith and the Arts. I won’t divulge more so that no other agents try to muscle in, but the topic seemed to fit nicely with the conversations I’d recently had with J. Mark Bertrand at Write About Now.

Saturday afternoon, Brian (the non-fiction writer) and I hung out with Steve during a long lunch, listening to his war stories. I was impressed with his sense of humor, professionalism, integrity. Too bad he’s already rejected representing The Lore of Efrathah!

Published in: on October 25, 2007 at 11:42 am  Comments (13)  

CSFF Blog Tour – The Bark of the Bog Owl, Day 3

I’ve been having so much fun touring the participants’ sites. Lots to read, including Janey DeMeo‘s and James Sommer‘s interviews with Jonathan Rogers author of the CSFF October feature, The Bark of the Bog Owl.

Yesterday I promised to take a closer look at the feechiefolk, a group of people that MAKES The Wilderking Trilogy, in my opinion. Here’s the beginning of Jonathan Rogers’ description of the feechiefolk from his Web site:

The Feechiefolk are a tribe of wild swamp- and river-dwellers who have inhabited Corenwald since long before the civilizers arrived. Their population is concentrated in the vast, forbidding Feechiefen swamp on Corenwald’s southern edge, but small bands of feechiefolk traverse the rivers throughout Corenwald, usually following the movements of fish and game. They are incredibly elusive and are almost never seen by Corenwalders. Most Corenwalders, in fact, don’t believe they exist.

So on one hand you have people who are wild, elusive, independent, and on the other you have the civilizers who not only are … well, civilized, they are cynical, needing tangible evidence upon which to base their belief.

Obviously, the feechiefolk offer rich fodder for conflict.

But Jonathan does so much more than use them as potential antagonists … or allies. They become endearing characters. A short excerpt from “A Fishing Trip”:

“Sounds like Doyno and Branko,” said Dobro, slowing down to listen. “They must be over at Mussel Bend. They’re the best fishermen you ever gonna meet. If there’s a catfish left in that creek, Doyno and Branko can find him.”

Dobro quickened his pace, energized by the whooping of the fisherman. “Are they going to have enough poles for us?” asked Aidan.

“What kind of poles?”

“Fishing poles.”

“Naw, naw, naw. This is serious fishing. We ain’t got time for fishing poles—not when it’s nearbout time for the feast already.”

Aidan’s curiosity was aroused. What sort of fishing would be more serious than pole fishing?

“There they are!” announced Dobro pointing through the trees where the main channel ran. Aidan saw only one person where Dobro was pointing, a feechie youth about his age standing in water up to his chest. Suddenly, the water beside him exploded in a huge splash, and a second person emerged, holding a big gray catfish that reached halfway to his shoulder. Doyno and Branko resumed their victorious whooping.

“Where did that catfish come from?” Aidan asked, his mouth open with wonderment.

“He grabbled it.”

“He did what?”

“He grabbled it. He caught it with his hands.”

I suppose that isn’t enough to show the “endearing” part, but I hope it illustrates how unique and three-dimensional the feechie folk are. They have their own rhythm of speech, their own set of values, their own standard of behavior.

Here’s another short segment, and I think you’ll catch some of the humor of the book, and in particular of the sections with the feechie. From “A Trial”:

[Aidan has been captured by two feechie, tied to a pole, and carried into camp.] An elderly feechie came out of the crowd and walked toward Aidan. He was a bent and toothless old thing, but many years’ rough wisdom shone from his one good eye. He was ergo Snagroot, chieftain of this band of feechies. He looked Aidan over from head to toe and back up again, then turned to address the assembled feechies.

He pointed at Aidan. “In case some of you didn’t know it already, this here is a civilizer.”

One of the wee-feechies, her eyes wide with terror, bolted away and ran screaming into the woods. The other wee-feechies weren’t quite so terrified, but they were confused. They had been under the impression that civilizers—if such things even existed—were some sort of monster. But this so-called civilizer didn’t look all that different from a feechie, only a little paler and softer, and dressed funny.

Feechiefolk continue throughout The Wilderking Trilogy, and their love poems add a great source of fun in Book Two, The Secret of the Swamp King. Here’s a poem quoted by Sally Apokedak in her review of the book:

She smells just as sweet as a mud turtle’s feet.
Her hair is as soft as a possum.
Once I walked by her side,
but she knocked me cross-eyed,
It took me a week to uncross ’em.

In May 2006 Sally held a fun feechie love poem writing contest. In setting out the guidelines, Sally offered samples, and received help from Jonathan Rogers himself:

I was going to post my poem today to show you how it’s done, but Jonathan beat me to it with a very funny offering that I can’t believe didn’t make it into the book:

    Her teeth ain’t too clean–kind of mossy and green–
    But most of them’s still in her head.
    Once I wrote her a love song, but she took it all wrong.
    It’s a wonder old Branko ain’t dead.

This stanza is pretty much like the rest. There is a line about how she looks, smells, feels or whatever. Then a line about how Branko sees the defect as an asset. After that there is one line about how he tried to show his love for her followed by a line about how she misunderstood and beat him up.

That’s pretty much the pattern, as far as I can see.

So here is my [Sally’s] offering:

    With two hairy shins and three hairy chins,
    My darlin’ is rightly attractive.
    I declared my love sweetly and she walloped me neatly
    And rendered me slightly inactive.

I admit, I got quite caught up with the feechie love poems—spent many a good writing hour on my own offerings, but alas, came up short. Here’s one of my efforts:

My love has a hook, like my shepherd’s bent crook,
That exists a tad south of her eyes.
When I tweak it a bit, she just throws a huge fit
And then swats me away with the flies.

Feechiefolk offer lots of fun. If you’re up for a try at a stanze of feechie love poetry, please post it here for our enjoyment. 😀

By the way, if you’d like to read Sally’s review of the third Wilderking book, The Way of the Wilderking, you’ll find it here.

As always, take some time, if not today, then later in the week, to check out the other CSFF’ers posting about The Bark of the Bog Owl.

Brandon Barr Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Janey DeMeo Jeff Draper April Erwin Linda Gilmore Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Sherrie Hibbs Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Karen Dawn King Mike Lynch Rachel Marks Karen McSpadden Melissa Meeks Eve Nielsen John W. Otte Lyn Perry Deena Peterson Rachelle Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Steve Trower Donna Swanson Robert Treskillard Jason Waguespac Daniel I. Weaver Laura Williams Timothy Wise

Those in bold have been added to the original list appearing at CSFF.

Published in: on October 24, 2007 at 12:34 pm  Comments (6)  

CSFF Blog Tour – The Bark of the Bog Owl, Day 2

Have I mentioned yet this month how much I love blog tours? 😉 Well, I do. CSFF has a great group of bloggers who work at providing interesting, insightful thoughts about our feature. This month we’re highlighting the first book in the Wilderking Trilogy The Bark of the Bog Owl (Broadman & Holman) by Jonathan Rogers, and the book seems to have brought out the best in our participants. I’m having a great time (was gonna say, blast, but I thought it dated me 😮 ) moving from site to site and reading what the various bloggers and their commenters are saying.

Here are a couple snippets.

From our newest member, Robert Treskillard, who bought the series on his own in order to participate:

So here’s my take on The Bark of the Bog Owl: FANTASTIC! This is a classic young adult fantasy adventure story. Although different in feel, I would place these books alongside C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia for their writing style and appeal to all ages.

From Brandon Barr about the power of fantasy, even in a Biblical story retelling such as The Bark of the Bog Owl:

Tragically, we do this [possess it to the point of losing the excitement of it] to the Bible as well. The stories, the parables, the miracles, we’ve heard them frequently, and they often grow old in our minds, and thus they lose their power. And it’s our own faults, because those things still have the power, we just fail to feel it anymore.

But that’s where Fantasy fiction comes in. Fantasy fiction can retell a story, giving it a new setting, new names, and can refresh our senses, reminding us of the true power of the story.

Yesterday, in my mini-review I shared the opening of The Bark of the Bog Owl and encouraged you to read the excerpt posted at B & H Publishing Group. Pure and simply, I think Jonathan Rogers is such a strong writer, his words sell his books better than anything. But the real test, in my opinion, is how readers in the target audience react. I mean, I’m a reader and enjoy lots of different genres written to a variety of audiences. What I like almost doesn’t count.

For example, the real test for Sharon Hinck‘s Becky Miller books or Julie Carobini‘s Chocolate books is what moms think. So too for the Wilderking books. What do middle graders and YA readers think?

Interestingly, several of our CSFF participants commented that before they could do their reviews they had to wrest the books out of their teens’ hands! 😀

I also look to an expert in the field, someone who knows the children’s/YA market, both Christian and secular. Sally Apokedak has credentials as a writer but also has done an excellent job as a reviewer at All About Children’s Books. Not only has Sally reviewed The Bark of the Bog Owl, she has reviewed the next two books in the trilogy. Here are her opening comments about book two, The secret of the Swamp King:

The secret of the Swamp King, book two in Jonathan Rogers’ Wilderking Trilogy, is the continuing story of young Aidan Errolson, the boy who will be Wilderking. It opens with a thrilling hunt–this time for a wild boar. To make the hunt more exciting it has to be done feechie fashion. No weapons allowed. I was very happy to see Dobro Turtlebane in the opening chapter as well as my old friend Aidan. So, right away, I was drawn into the story, anxious to see what kind of trouble these lovable characters would get into.

You can find the entire review here.

Tomorrow, more on the feechifolk, because Rogers was never better, in my opinion, than when he had Dobro and company center stage.

Here are the other blogs you can tour: Brandon Barr Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Janey DeMeo Jeff Draper April Erwin Linda Gilmore Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Sherrie Hibbs Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Karen Dawn King Mike Lynch Rachel Marks Karen McSpadden Melissa Meeks Eve Nielsen John W. Otte Lyn Perry Deena Peterson Rachelle Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Steve Trower Donna Swanson Robert Treskillard Jason Waguespac Daniel I. Weaver Laura Williams Timothy Wise

Those in bold have been added to the original list appearing at CSFF.

Published in: on October 23, 2007 at 11:28 am  Comments (7)  

CSFF Blog Tour – The Bark of the Bog Owl, Day 1

I confess. When I first read an excerpt of The Bark of the Bog Owl,
Book One of The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers (Broadman & Holman – now B & H), I was captivated. The tone was fun, the character interesting. He was bold but a bit starry-eyed and naive. It made me love him and feel a little sorry, too, because I thought he was in for a bit of a let down.

Here’s a small quote and I think you’ll see what I mean:

His Majesty, King Darrow of Corenwald,
Protector of the People,
Defender of the Faith,
Keeper of the Island
Tambluff Castle
West Bank of the River Tam
Tambluff, Corenwald

My Dearest King—

You will be glad to learn that I am still available for any quest, adventure, or dangerous mission for which you might need a champion or knight-errant. I specialize in dragon-slaying, but would be happy to fight pirates or invading barbarians if circumstances require. I would even be willing to rescue a fair maiden imprisoned by evil relatives. That would not be my first choice, since I am not of marrying age. Still, in peaceful and prosperous times like these, an adventurer takes whatever work he can find. As always, I am at your service and eagerly await your reply.

Yours very sincerely,

Aidan Errolson of Longleaf Manor

P.S. I have not yet received an answer to my last letter—or to my fourteen letters before that. Mail service being what it is on the frontier, I assume your replies were lost. I hope you don’t mind that I have taken the liberty of writing again.

You can see the humor to it as well. And it only gets better. If you’d like to read the rest of the excerpt, you can find it here.

But I was confessing, so I need to continue. After finding this delightful, fun, interesting character, I held off buying and reading The Bark of the Bog Owl for quite some time. Why? Because I thought the story would be predictable. You see, I discovered the book was a retelling of a well-known event in Biblical history.

Why read a fictionalized version, was my question. What I didn’t know was how this was only a retelling of sorts, with lots of interesting variations. Amazingly, when I finally did give in and read the book, I discovered I had a greater understanding of the Biblical event and yet experienced a story that was so unique and fun, it was in no way spoiled because I knew key plot points in advance.

Over all, I found the book to be one of the best pieces of writing you’ll want to read—inside of Christian fiction or out. It’s got all the components, expertly crafted.

Happily, I overcame my hesitation and let better sense win out. My confession is to my foolishness for waiting so long to discover this outstanding writer and his top-notch debut fantasy.

Note, I am not writing a full-blown review. It’s been over a year since I read the book, so I wouldn’t do the story justice. Plus you can read an excellent review by the 2007 ACFW Genesis Winner, Fantasy Category, Sally Apokedak, posted at Spec Faith.

Take some time to learn what other bloggers on the tour have to say about The Bark of the Bog Owl. Note in particular those in bold that were left off the original list.

Published in: on October 22, 2007 at 10:43 am  Comments (5)  

CFBA Blog Tour—Crimson Eve

If you’re familiar with Christian suspense writer Brandilyn Collins, then you already know she is famous for her edge-of-the-seat writing and for delighting in killing off unsuspecting souls—waiters, agents, even fellow writers. Why, I myself was with her two years ago, up at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference when she plotted one such … uh, liquidation. And here she is at last year’s ICRS in Atlanta—caught red-handed, so to speak! 😀

The thing is, Brandilyn’s novels are not about the deaths. As in all good suspense, the story is about the threat to the one still living—the Target someone, who for whatever reason, is in the cross hairs (sometimes literally) of a villain and is running, hiding, dodging for her life.

Brandilyn’s latest release, Crimson Eve fits the mold, then breaks it.

The Story. Quiet, hard-working Carla, a real estate agent in Kanner Lake, Idaho, is going about her business when her past catches up to her. At first she can make no sense of someone trying to kill her. Who and why? Unless … There was that one person sixteen years ago when she worked at …

You didn’t actually think I was going to tell you, did you?? 😮 I do not believe in writing reviews that spoil the story. And this is a page-turner you do not want spoiled. It is fast-paced, vivid, suspenseful (Brandilyn makes sure of that), and surprising. Sure, there are some things you can begin to connect as the story goes along, but even in the end, I found some surprising twists that made the story thoroughly entertaining all the way from the front cover to the back.

Strengths. Strong writing. An intriguing plot. An engaging character to match. I think this is Brandilyn’s best story to date. Carla, more than any other protagonist of Brandilyn’s is someone I rooted for, cared about, worried over, felt sorry for. And got a little mad at. She’s a character who is apt to stay with the reader long after the thrill part of the ride is over.

Weakness. Usually I’m complaining because Brandilyn includes scenes written from the point of view of the villain/antagonist, and as is in vogue currently, she gives him some quality that makes him seem not so much an ogre. In this case it is his love for his son. Except, in this book the antagonist is not really the villain. He is actually a victim of sorts, too, and of the same villain that our protagonist must withstand. I liked the fact that there was truly someone who I didn’t like and who I didn’t feel compelled to like because of some spark of goodness. The villain made it easy to root for Carla from beginning to end.

Oh, yes, I’m supposed to be discussing weaknesses. Well, none in the depiction of the villain or antagonist. I think there was only one place I might call a weakness. This was Carla’s decision to … well, I can’t really tell you, can I. Not without spoiling some of the story. Suffice it to say, she made a decision which kept her in jeopardy. Brandilyn motivated it adequately, I think, especially as you learn more about Carla. Initially, I didn’t think it was credible, and later I just wanted to shake our heroine because she was doing a dangerous, dangerous thing. She should have known better! or not. Clearly, this is not a make-or-break point.

Recommendation. For suspense lovers, Crimson Eve is a must read. For any other reader, I highly recommend this book.

Published in: on October 19, 2007 at 6:00 am  Comments Off on CFBA Blog Tour—Crimson Eve  

Rethinking the Rethinking Conversation

So I’m having trouble with email today. My provider (is that the right term?) will let me receive email but not send it. Of course, I can use Web mail and I have a second account, but the problem is sending to groups of people, such as the CSFF Blog Tour members. YIKES! We have a tour to get ready for! Hopefully this problem is being worked out. When I called and got the voice mail, at least it was apparent from the interaction with the computer that they are aware they have a problem.

Enough of that.

I did want to react to two things from Mark’s comments posted yesterday. First, in discussing theology in fiction, he used an illustration from one of his short stories in which he was exploring the paradox of freedom and divine sovereignty. My lingering question is, how “complete” must our picture of God be? I mean, in the story Mark wrote he was equating Man to a puppet on a string — or not.

But what about the puppet master? Couldn’t someone read such a story and interpret the unseen hand manipulating the strings as fate or the impersonal force of the universe? Is it necessary, therefore, for a work of fiction to put in place all parts of what we believe about God when we zero in on His sovereignty—specifically that He is Good, Personal, Omniscient?

A second question came up in my mind as I read the next paragraph. In part, Mark wrote

The Christian faith is a rich resource for novelists, not a straightjacket. Because they are storytellers rather than teachers, they approach the material differently than a pastor would. And frankly, they don’t have to approach it at all. Not every Christian writer is trying to work out his faith on the page. Some are just making a living by entertaining people, and that’s good, honest work.

I’m thinking specifically of that last line. I read it and my initial thought is, Well, that’s true. After all, when I write for the newspaper, I’m doing that for my career and to make some money to live. It’s good, honest work.

And yet, nagging at the back of my mind is the thought that our world is dying, and I have life. Should I not share it? Especially because I’ve been told to make disciples?

So, perhaps a pastor who’s vocation is making disciples decides to write fiction, as much as entertainment for himself as for his readers, he’s not being disobedient to his charge. He’s doing good, honest work.

And yet … when we have a chance to glory God, shouldn’t we take it?

What are your thoughts?

Published in: on October 18, 2007 at 12:24 pm  Comments (6)  
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