The Angel and the Donkey

The Bible story of Balaam and his talking donkey recorded in the book of Numbers has always mystified me, and it seems like the more I think about it, the more I find mystifying.

My initial problem comes in what appears to be God changing His mind. Here’s the background. The king of Moab wants Balaam, evidently a prophet of God, to come and curse Israel, the people of God, as they are making their way to the Promised Land.

OK, we can overlook the king’s ignorance, I guess, assuming instead that he hadn’t put two and two together—that the God who was protecting and blessing these people was the same one Balaam consulted for his prophetic words.

But on to the story. When the envoy from the king arrived, Balaam said, let me see what God has to say about this. He came back to them and faithful reported God’s word—no, I’m not to go with you, I’m not to curse them.

Perhaps the king had been spoiled as a child because he didn’t take no for an answer. He sent his representatives to Balaam a second time. The prophet said he’d check with God to see what else He had to say. And this time God told Balaam to go with the men but to speak only that which He told him to.

Off they go, accompanied by two of Balaam’s servants. And Balaam’s faithful donkey which he’d ridden all his life.

Along the way, an angel of the Lord lies in wait for Balaam with drawn sword in hand. The donkey sees the angel and avoids him. Three times.

Balaam, apparently frustrated by his wayward donkey, beats the animal. And then the second miracle—the donkey asks Balaam what he did to deserve the beatings. Balaam says he would have killed the donkey if he’d had a sword because the animal was mocking him.

The donkey asks if Balaam has ever known him to act this way before, and when the prophet admits he has not, his eyes are opened and he sees the angel.

The angel says to Balaam, why did you beat your donkey seeing as he saved your life?

Balaam then repents, says he sinned, and that he’ll return home if that’s what the Lord wants. The answer? No, go ahead and go, but speak only what God tells you.

Besides the God-changing-His-mind issue, I saw for the first time this week the God-versus-God aspect of the story. The angel of God stood with a sword to kill the prophet of God, but a miraculous talking donkey saved him. Who but God opened the eyes and the mouth of the donkey? So God saved His prophet from His angel.

Now I have to admit, I decided to post these questions because often times in writing things down, I see more clearly. And I think that might be true here.

Apparently there is something Scripture doesn’t give us in these verses—Balaam’s decision to say something he wasn’t supposed to say.

Consequently, in the same way he viewed his donkey as wayward and beat the animal and would have killed it, God stood against Balaam with sword in hand as the prophet went, apparently wayward in his heart, to meet with the king.

Except God had mercy on Balaam and gave him a second chance—well, actually three chances, as it turns out, because that’s how many times the king took Balaam to a place where he could overlook Israel and where he offered sacrifices as a way of seeking God’s curse.

Three times. The same number of times the donkey saved Balaam’s life. Coincidence?

Now, about that God-changing-His-mind issue … 🙄

Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 1:17 pm  Comments (11)  
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Leaving Yesterday – A Review

Don’t read the back cover. I’m talking about Kathryn (Katie) Cushman’s soon-to-be-released novel Leaving Yesterday (Bethany House). Happily I dove into the book without any preamble, and I am so thankful. This one is too good to spoil with advanced warning. Which does make writing a review for it … challenging. But I’ll give it my best shot.

The Story. With the feel of autobiography, this first person account is a mother’s tale involving her love for and devotion to her children. But more than that, it is the story about her … over achievement. I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to give hints that will spoil the reading experience.

Strengths. The main character Alisa Steward is so well drawn—I’m certain I know her, though by a different name. But all the characters are just as realistic. Their actions are well motivated and believable. They are likable, and I found myself pulling for them to do the right thing.

There’s lots of action, though not the melodramatic kind of the TV thriller, and what is happening inside Alisa is really the most important part of the story.

The themes are strong, important, clear without being preachy. One central theme under girds the novel, but there are lots of other points a person can glean about drug abuse, not judging others, sacrifice, grief, redemption, anger, marital fidelity. All these and more in a fairly compact 300-page novel.

The ending was handled exceptionally well, I thought. The resolution is poignant and hopeful, but not “perfect,” which made it the perfect conclusion.

Rarely these days do I lose myself so completely in the story world of a novel. Call it the writer’s curse. Too often I find myself looking at the writing to see what went wrong or how the author pulled this or that off.

I’ll admit, I did look at the opening to see how Katie so completely hooked me into the story by the second paragraph, but from then on, I was lost in the life of Alisa Stewart.

I looked forward to reading the book, tried to stay awake late at night (rather than hoping the book would put me to sleep), and hated to put it down when I had to.

Recommendation. If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know I generally give the weaknesses of a book before the recommendation, and I think that’s important because it is then clear I’m not simply hyping the book. But honestly, I have nothing to say about weaknesses. I saw one typo.

Just so you know what I’m talking about, here’s the opening:

My son was dead. I knew it the minute I saw the black-and-white car pull to the curb in front of my house.

Clods of potting soil still clinging to my gloves—like the debris of the last few years clung to everything in my life—I turned back to my house, walked up the porch steps, opened the front door, then closed and locked it behind me. Perhaps a reasonable person would understand that the clink of the deadbolt sliding into place did nothing to stop the impending news. Well, show me the mother who thinks with reason when faced with the news that her only remaining son is dead.

Undoubtedly the book, marketed as contemporary fiction, will appeal most to women, but I think men can enjoy the story too. It’s a well-written, important story, and I suggest it’s a must read for Christian women. I highly recommend it to Christian guys as well.

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 12:24 pm  Comments (3)  
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Robert Liparulo Interview, Part 2

Today I’m continuing the interview with Christian thrill writer and now Christian speculative YA fiction author Robert Liparulo.

RLM: Would you be inclined to proudly accept or sheepishly duck the tag of “plot driven” for your books? And why?

RL: I’d shy away from that label. While my stories tend to be high-concept, in that they are big and easily grasped in a sentence or two, it’s really the characters that define them, not their plots. I avoid detailed outlines, because I want my characters to tell me where the story ought to go. I’d call what I write “high-concept, character-driven adventures.”

RLM: Your YA books have been compared favorably to those by authors such as Ted Dekker. If you could choose which author you wanted your books to be like, who would you name and why?

RL: That’s a tough one, because I’d like to think my stories and style are unique and beyond comparison. But comparisons are inevitable, I know. It makes it easier for readers who haven’t read an author to understand what they may be getting into, whether they would probably like the author or not. With that in mind, I’d like to write accessibly strange stories, the way Stephen King does; with the literary skills and popular sensibilities of Dean Koontz and Peter Straub; and the storytelling abilities of Richard Matheson and Frank Peretti.

RLM: Thomas Nelson, a member of the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association (ECPA) is your publisher. Why was it important for you to be published by a house known for its Christian content?

RL: The bottom line is I’m a Christian. I knew when I signed with Nelson, as I do now, that my faith would inform my writing. I want to tell stories that reflect God’s goodness and grace, and depict heroes that behave the way I believe we should behave, with heroism and bravery. I like action thrillers, and had a hard time finding them in Christian bookstores or the Christian fiction sections of mainstream bookstores. So I’d buy them from the mystery and thriller sections of secular stores, which usually meant I had to put up with gratuitous sex and violence to get the intrigue and action I wanted as a reader. I wanted to give people what I was craving: action thrillers without the things that would make them R rated, if they were movies.

RLM: What about your work is distinctly Christian?

RL: The simple answer is “I do.” And I do think that’s a more important consideration than specific scenes or characters who are obviously Christian. My stories reflect my strong faith in Christ, but in subtle ways. I don’t often wrote scenes that specifically reference this faith, but through my characters’ actions, I think it becomes obvious that they are acting in Godly ways. Some fiction contains more overt references to faith than mine do. I believe there’s room for all sorts of stories in God’s kingdom. I think of what I write as sort of a frontline in the battle for God’s kingdom. I’m reaching readers who want the action, but not necessarily the faith. Then they realize they like what they’ve read and they hear through interviews or other readers or by virtue of my publisher that I’m a Christian, and they think, “Hey, that wasn’t preachy. Maybe there are other books by Christians that I would like.” And they go deeper into the fold, until they find—and I hope, like—the more overtly faith-based stories.

RLM: Why should readers, young or old, read the Dreamhouse Kings series?

RL: First, to be entertained. It’s a fun, action-packed story. Next, for the good examples of family, bravery, and eventually, faith. Because the family has to overcome all kinds of obstacles, such as dangers when they go back in time and the threats of a man in the present trying to get them out of the house, plus their own doubts and fears, it paints the story of people who have to do what’s right regardless of all the reasons not to. It explores the values of love for family and fulfilling what you were designed to do—your destiny, if you will.

RLM: Thanks so much, Robert, for taking time to dialogue with us about your work.

RL: Thanks for letting me ramble. We writers love to do that!

Fantasy Friday – An Interview, Part 1

Announcements. Please vote in our monthly poll for the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award.

Also, check out the list of nominations for the Clive Staples Award. Be sure your choice is on the list and remember, these are books published in 2008. You can see the requirement details in the post opening nominations.

Authors Wayne Batson and Christopher Hopper have a great contest going on to promote their new book, Curse of the Spider King (the CSFF November feature). Follow this link and check it out!

The Interview. Some of you may already be fans of action thriller author Robert Liparulo (Comes a Horseman, Germ), but perhaps you didn’t realize (as I didn’t) that he’s currently writing a young adult series of speculative fiction. I had a chance to ply him with some questions—too many for one post, but we’ll get started today:

RLM: In July Timescape, the fourth book in your series for young adults released. Tell us a little about the Dreamhouse Kings series.

RL: The King family moves to a small town in northern California, so Dad could take a job as principal of the local middle and high school. They move into a run-down Victorian home, where they find a hidden hallway of doors.

Each door leads to a portal to a different time in history. Trouble is, not only can they go from the house to the past, people from the past can come through into their house. Someone does—and kidnaps Mom, taking her into some unknown place in the past. The Kings—primarily David and Xander—begin a quest for Mom, which takes them to many dangerous and incredible places throughout time. We slowly learn that the family is in the house for a very specific purpose and they must do much more than “simply” find their mother.

With each book, the action and stakes increase. It’s a lot of fun.

RLM: You broke in as a published author three years ago with your much acclaimed adult thriller, Comes a Horseman. What prompted you to shift gears and start writing for an young adult audience?

RL: A lot of high schoolers started reading my “adult” thrillers, especially Germ, and I got a chance to talk to classes and book groups. I found that I really enjoyed talking to young readers; they’re primarily interested in the things that made me want to become a writer in the first place: story and character. They love asking why a story went one way instead of another, why characters did what they did. Every time I left a school, I was excited to get back to storytelling. The kids really pumped me up.

Right around this time, my publisher called and asked if I’d be interested in writing a few young adult stories. I jumped at the chance.

RLM: Your fans love the high-action thrills in your books. What prompted you to dip into speculative elements for the Dreamhouse Kings series?

RL: In tackling young adult stories, I decided not to “talk down to” them. I wanted to retain my style of writing and even the vocabulary. These are smart readers, savvy consumers of story. I decided what would make these stories “young adult” would be the protagonists—they would be youthful, like the readers—and the story itself would be one that this age, particularly, would like. I have four kids of my own, so I know they enjoy far-out stories, speculative adventures. They are more willing than adults to suspend disbelieve for the sake of a good story. That got me thinking about a dream I had when I was eleven or twelve about a house with doors to the past, and that developed into the Dreamhouse Kings.

I’ve always been a fan of speculative fiction—Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov—and in my early days, I wrote short stories that could be classified as horror or science fiction, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to go there now.

To be continued.

CSFF Tour Wrap – The Vanishing Sculptor

Another tour over. The Vanishing Sculptor was definitely a fun one, with author Donita Paul commenting on a number of blogs. There were interviews, reviews, summaries, bios, discussions about humor in fantasy, themes, and characters. There was even a quiz. A total of 35 blogs participated, with 56 posts.

Unless I’ve overlooked someone, the participants’ list is now updated and accurate, so if you haven’t had a chance to read all the articles you’d like to, take some time this week and check out the thoughts of others about this more-complex-than-meets-the-eye story.

You might want to start with those eligible for the September CSFF Top Blogger Award (and then vote – 😀 ):

Published in: on September 24, 2009 at 1:39 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Tour Wrap – The Vanishing Sculptor  
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CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3 – The Vanishing Sculptor, A Review

Donita Paul impresses me because she continues to develop as a writer, though she is obviously already successful and popular. The latest evidence of this is her newest release, The Vanishing Sculptor.

The Story. Set in the same world as the DragonKeeper Chronicles, though in a distant country, this prequel to the series centers on Tipper, a young emerlindian who is trying to provide for her mother by selling valuables from their once thriving estate.

Tipper’s father, a renowned artist, disappeared some years ago, though her mother talks and acts as if he is still present. As it turns out, he actually is sometimes present, and at last Tipper reunites with him—until he again fades from sight.

Tipper soon learns what is causing her father’s problems and sets out with a band of concerned associates on a quest to set things right so that her father will remain and so the world will not disintegrate into chaos.

Strengths. The plot is particularly strong in this book, I think. It’s tightly organized, yet has surprises and twists that keep it from being predictable.

The main character, Tipper, has a clearly defined objective from the beginning, so I found myself pulling for her at once.

The stakes involved are serious for Tipper and her family, but they grow larger as the story goes on. Soon the whole world is at risk, and we begin to see more evidences of the chaos that will destroy the world if the quest isn’t successful.

That, along with the effects on her father, adds a “ticking clock,” enhancing the seriousness of this quest.

Tipper is a likable protagonist from the beginning. Her plight is hard and I felt sympathetic for her right away. The other characters are well drawn, unique, and interesting. And one of my favorites from the DragonKeeper Chronicles is a key player.

The themes in the book are strong without being preachy. Overt at places, but naturally so. The characters are talking to each other, not the author talking to the reader.

Weakness. My only real criticism is that the antagonist didn’t show up sooner. There is a good antagonist, a worthy opponent, but for much of the book, the circumstances seem to be the only opponent, and those, accidentally initiated.

Consequently, while the stakes are huge and time is running out, there doesn’t seem to be the tension in the early part of the book that I found present later.

Recommendation. This is a deceptively light story. By that I mean it is an easy read, marketed to all ages, but with the feel of a young adult novel. And yet, the themes are big and crafted well. There is much to think about in this novel, even though the story, on the surface, is a feel-good, happy-ever-after type. I highly recommend this book to fans of the DragonKeeper Chronicles and any others who enjoy fantasy.

Be sure to visit other participating blogs listed in my day one post. Lots and lots of good posts – Dawn King, who lost her other Donita Paul books in a fire, says this might be her favorite. Coming from the ACFW Conference, Donita was still able to give an interview to Phyllis Wheeler, and Chawna Schroeder gives her usual objective review of our featured book.

Published in: on September 23, 2009 at 2:41 pm  Comments (3)  

Covers and Contest – CSFF Blog Tour, The Vanishing Sculptor, Day 2

The CSFF Blog tour for Donita Paul‘s The Vanishing Sculptor has me thinking about book covers, but I also want to tell you about a contest, so here we go.

Cover Design/Illustration: Mark D. Ford

Cover Design/Illustration: Mark D. Ford

I am about the worst person in the world when it comes to noticing book covers. I don’t understand this because I consider myself more strongly a visual learner, so why don’t the visuals of a book immediately attract me? They don’t. Neither do titles.

Case in point, our current feature, The Vanishing Sculptor. Do you have any idea how long it took me just to remember the title? I kept thinking The Vanishing Sepulcher for some reason. Not until I started typing the title out did it really stick.

And then there’s the cover. Today—yes, TODAY—I read a comment over at Rachel Starr Thomson’s blog that mentioned the dragon on the cover, and I thought, Huh? What dragon? If you’d asked me what was on the cover, I’d have said something in greens and burgundy. 😳

But now, as I look at the cover, really look, I see how cute and completely right it is for the story. There’s a promise of fun and adventure and imagination—just what the book delivers.

So my question. How important are covers to you when you’re considering a book to read or buy? And are we going to lose the enticement of covers as books move to the electronic media, or will the enticement of video trailers replace what covers once did (for some people 😛 )?

On to the contest (and there is no connection between covers and contest except for the alliteration and cool sound of the two said together 😀 ).

Now as I look at the details, I’m wondering if the contest has ended. I’m referring to Donita Paul’s The Vanishing Sculptor’s Library Proofs Contest, Summer 2009.

It’s a great marketing idea. Those wishing to participate simply had to provide proof that their local library has a copy of The Vanishing Sculptor or that the participant made a request for the library to acquire the book.

I was going to suggest fans take this challenge to heart … except, today is the official beginning of autumn, so I’m wondering if the contest is over.

Even if it is, I think it’s a worthy endeavor to suggest books to librarians. And I don’t think we should stop at public libraries. Talk to school librarians and church librarians.

OK, to wrap up today’s tour post, let me suggest a few others you may want to check out.

Karina Fabian has an interview with Donita Paul
Jill Williamson has a DragonKeeper Chronicles quiz you can take.
Emmalyn Edwards takes a close look at the characters.
Fred Warren posted a great review, dealing especially with a principal theme of the book.
Wayne Thomas Batson posts Donita’s testimony and gives a personal anecdote from the West Coast Fantasy Tour a year ago.

You can see all the participants listed with links to their articles in the Day 1 post.

Published in: on September 22, 2009 at 11:06 am  Comments (7)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Vanishing Sculptor, Day 1

Announcements. Lots going on, so lest I forget, I want to take care of business before moving onto Donita Paul and her latest release, The Vanishing Sculptor (WaterBrook).

First, I’m still looking for help with a book title. If you haven’t given feedback yet and would like to, you’ll find the poll at Fantasy Friday – I Need Your Help. The poll will be open through this week.

Also we’re accepting nominations for the 2009 Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. The developing list is posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction and also at the Award site.

Third, the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) held their awards ceremony this past weekend. Congratulations to Sharon Hinck, winner of the Book of the Year Award – Speculative, for The Restorer’s Journey, and to David Fry, winner of the Genesis Contest – SciFi/Allegory/Fantasy, for Lies to See. Great accomplishments! 😀

There is one other award I want to mention in particular, but I’ll get to that.

The Tour. As I’ve stated from time to time, the CSFF Blog Tour got it’s start when Donita Paul took a chance on us, sending a group of 17 bloggers copies of DragonKnight, book 3 in her DragonKeeper Chronicles series. Actually, that tour was our second, the first featuring Tim Frankovich’s excellent site Christian Fiction Review with his “Focus on Fantasy” section. But with Donita’s tour, word seemed to spread like wildfire, and today CSFF has nearly 150 members, and monthly 35 or more participating blogs.

I think, in part, the growth was due to Donita’s gracious participation in the tour, beyond providing books. She conducted interviews, too, and stopped by our blogs to comment. As I look at it, she set the gold standard for author involvement in blog tours. For example, she left comments on each of my tour posts, and came back to answer questions others left her.

Here’s her initial comment to the Day 1 post:

Becky, this is such a great idea! I had a hard time envisioning just what-all a blog tour encompassed. I was just talking to a sales rep from WaterBrook and told him what a fantastic job you all are doing on the grassroots level. Believe me, the grassroots level is what starts the fires that spread from reader to reader.

The encouragement was great, the review copies of the book were great, the interaction with a published author was great.

So, bringing us back to the present, it was no surprise to me to learn that the ACFW Mentor of the Year award went to Donita Paul! Sky-writing sized congratulations!

I hope visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction learn a lot about Donita and her writing during these next three days. If you haven’t read any of her books yet, The Vanishing Sculptor might be the perfect one to start with. It’s the beginning of a new series and a sort of prequel to the DragonKeeper Chronicles. But I’ll get into book specifics another day.

For now, take some time to visit other blogs participating in the tour:

Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 11:58 am  Comments (15)  
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Fantasy Friday – Nominations Needed

Let’s see if we can select a book to receive the 2009 Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. We need nominations.

These must be Christian worldview science fiction/ fantasy/allegory/furturistic/supernatural novels published in English by a royalty paying press between January 2008 and December 2008.

You may post the book title, author, and publisher you think is qualified for this award in a comment here or at Speculative Faith or at the Award site.

Looking forward to seeing this list develop.

Cross posted at Speculative Faith and at Clive Staples Award.

Published in: on September 18, 2009 at 11:26 am  Comments (14)  

So You Think You Can Write

Sometimes I feel like those contestants on shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. You’ve seen them—people who seem absolutely clueless that they have no business on a stage, who for all the world seem genuinely to believe they should be the next Idol or America’s favorite dancer. Meanwhile the judges are laughing behind their hands, and sometimes cutting them cruelly to their faces.

But isn’t writing fiction a lot like that? We writers slog away putting together a story we like, peopled with characters we care about. But what does everyone else think? Do they see the scene the way we do when we paint it with words? Do they know the characters in depth the way we do?

And how about those judges, the editors and agents and contest judges we send our work off to? Are they laughing behind their hands? They’re human, after all, and entitled to an opinion. But how do I know their opinion of my work isn’t disdain?

Maybe, just maybe, I don’t belong up on that stage. It’s a question I ask as I prepare yet another proposal to go out.

Is the opening strong enough? the title catchy enough? the writing good enough? Does the proposal sound too formal? or not professional enough? Do I accurately represent my story? or do too much so it looks like I’m trying too hard? Did I include enough marketing information? or too much?

Yesterday I wrote about conferences, and one thing that happens at even the small ones I’ve been to is appointments with editors and agents. So any number of writers are in Denver this week meeting with professions in the hope of finding out if they’ll be going to Hollywood or getting a ticket to Las Vegas.

For writers, I think that next step is an editor or agent saying, Go ahead and send me a proposal (or full manuscript). With that request, maybe we can at least put to rest the idea that the professionals are getting a chuckle at our expense.

But what about that next round and the next and the next. What about after the contest is over and the hard work of marketing a book becomes a reality?

In it all, it seems to me there is one and only one thing a Christian writer can know for sure: God knows what He’s doing. He hasn’t forgotten a single one of His children. He will complete the work He’s begun in us. And most likely, He’ll use writing and the writing business to shape and form writers into His image. No matter what happens on stage.

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