Miles to Go Before I Sleep


Sorry this post is late, sorry that I’ve been lax in answering comments. Yes, I do read them all and think answers in my head which I plan to write ASAP. But right now, things have piled up, and I’m trying to wade to the top before Christmas overwhelms me.

I realize my situation is nothing special—visitors here are just as busy as I am. In light of that, today I thought I’d point you to a nice article about the Clive Staples Award winner, and speculative fiction in general. It’s short and to the point. What I like is knowing people are out there talking about the award and the winner. That, after all, was the point of initiating the award.

The article, “Donita K. Paul wins Reader’s Choice Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction,” is at Examiner.com.

Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 6:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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Why Were the Kings Such Bad Parents?


Recently I finished reading I and II Kings, right about the time I finished reading Debbie Thomas‘s Raising Rain. Something I didn’t mention in my Friday review of the novel is that one of its theme deals with parenting. Maybe that’s why I started thinking about what bad parents the Israelite kings were.

Even the good kings were bad fathers. Take David for instance. He was filled with the Holy Spirit (see I Samuel 16:13), was known as a man after God’s own heart, wrote Scripture, but look at his sons. One raped his sister. Another murdered his brother and later organized a coup against his father. A third tried to take the throne before Solomon could.

Where was David when all this was going on ? Well, he got mad at the rapist … but did nothing else. He exiled the murderer … for a time, but eventually brought him back to Jerusalem and even back to the court. And the one who schemed to supplant Solomon? David left the problem for the new king.

What’s more, he openly favored Absalom, the son who engineered the coup. Despite his murderous intent, when David’s followers engaged Absalom’s in battle, Davide ordered his commanders to preserve Absalom’s life. When he was killed instead, David mourned and mourned—to the point that one of his commanders (his nephew) said, “I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased” (2 Samuel 19:6b).

But David wasn’t the only bad father. Time and again, Godly kings were followed on the throne by their sons who undermined everything they’d done to turn the nation back to following God.

Hezekiah, for instance, was one of the best kings, but his son, Manasseh was possibly the worst, going so far as to institute child sacrifice to one of the false gods of a neighboring country. How was it that Hezekiah could tear down the idol temples, destroy the high places, repair the temple, experience God’s healing in response to his prayer, and not teach his son to love God and worship Him?

Josiah, too. What an inspiring young man. When he heard the word of God read, he knew at once that his nation had incurred God’s wrath because of their waywardness. He sought God and went about educating his people. He purged Judah of idolatrous priests, removed the mediums and spiritists and, re-instituted the Passover. Scripture says of him, “Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses” (2 Kings 23:25a). But he ended up having three of his sons sit on the throne and in every instance Scripture records that they did evil in the sight of the Lord.

So what happened?

Were the kings too busy to pay attention to their sons? Did they have too many kids to even know them? Did they leave the rearing up to their mothers or to some other caregiver? (One boy’s grandmother tried to kill all the heirs, and his aunt saved him. Perhaps she was in place to do so because he was in her care).

Solomon is the one that mystifies me most. He who wrote such passages as “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” didn’t seem to do a very good job of training up his own son.

I suppose some of these wayward boys chose to go astray despite good training. That would seem to be the case of Joash, the boy king rescued from his grandmother. As long as his uncle was alive giving him counsel, he conducted himself as a Godly king, but once his uncle died, he did an about-face.

So the dads, and the moms, aren’t to blame for the results. But you’d think, in that whole line of kings there would have been one who wholeheartedly walked with God and whose son did likewise.

Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 5:59 pm  Comments (6)  
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CFBA Tour – Raising Rain


Raising Rain (Moody Press) is the perfect title for Debbie Fuller Thomas’s second novel, one of the tour features of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance.

I was happy to sign up for this book because Debbie is one of the authors I know personally. We first met at a Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference back in 2005, I believe. I think it was at the 2007 conference that I learned Debbie had a contract. As it turned out, Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon became a Christy Award finalist.

The Story. Raising Rain, released in September, may duplicate that accomplishment. This is a splendid story, exploring deeper themes by looking at the lives of five women who came out of America’s cultural revolution during the late 1960s and early 70s. Four of these women were young adults just starting college in one of the hotbeds of cultural change—Northern California—during the turbulent times of the Vietnam War era.

If I gave you a thumbnail sketch of the plot, you might be scratching your head thinking, where’s the story? This book might be considered “character driven,” but Debbie skillfully moves the plot forward by giving timely looks back—flashback scenes that show the reader what life was like for the four roommates and the little girl named Rain that they helped raise.

In addition, Debbie creates curiosity and suspense. What happened between protagonist Bebe and her family? Why did the roommates stay friends with the abusive Jude? What will Rain do about the greatest desire of her heart? And what will the Celebrate Life weekend produce?

Those questions and more had me turning pages late into the night—or should I say, wee hours of the morning.

Strengths. Above all else, I think Raising Rain mines one of the least understood eras, and perhaps most influential upon contemporary culture, of American history, but it does so through five characters that epitomize those most immediately affected by the societal upheaval. It’s a powerful look at the effects of the dramatic changes that took place.

The power of this book only works because Debbie Thomas created such believable characters. Their hurts, foibles, successes, fears, passions, and all come alive through the pages of Raising Rain.

Equally important, the themes of the book transcend the time. These are not Vietnam-era problems; they are human problems, women’s issues, family matters.

Weaknesses. A story about five women has an immediate pitfall—introducing the reader to all the characters without being confusing. I’ll admit, for a few chapters, I was mired in the bunker of confusion, especially as I tried to sort out the various relationships.

A second problem that niggled at me had to do with an unresolved hurt that separated one of the key characters and those she cared about. When the “reveal” came about and I understood what had caused the rift, I felt a little let down. I didn’t think the issue seemed like it would have created such significant distance.

Another interesting thing may or may not be a weakness. Much of this story is delivered through narrative rather than through scene. Here’s a sample I pulled out randomly:

They checked into the hotel and noticed that a majority of cars in the parking lot boasted USMC stickers. They found a place to eat and turned in early … Like a kid on Christmas Eve, Bebe had difficulty seeping. Not only was she excited to see Scott, but she also harbored worry about Bobby in her mind.

The effect this had on me was to distance me from the emotions of the characters. I understood, for example, that Bebe was excited and anxious, but I didn’t feel those things with her. Consequently, places that may have been tearjerker scenes didn’t affect me that way.

Is that a weakness? Well, I didn’t want to read a tearjerker, so I didn’t really mind. But as a writer, I think, Hmmm, maybe pulling a few tears out of a reader would be good. 😉

Recommendation. Here’s the strongest indication of what I thought about the book. I woke up the morning after finishing it sad that I wouldn’t be able to attend a key event the book referred to at the end. In other words, the characters felt that real, and I felt that invested in their lives.

For readers who enjoy women’s fiction, this is a must read.

Published in: on December 4, 2009 at 2:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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We Have a Winner – In Both Contests


First, congratulations to Ryan Heart (posts include a terrific interview with both authors, an introduction of the Underground, and a review), winner of the November CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award. Ryan more than doubled the number of votes the closest competitor received. Consequently, despite the fact that she received just under fifty percent of the total vote, she was still the clear winner.

For some time we’ve had an online button the winner can display, but honestly I haven’t figured out my part. I’m turning over the job of sending the button to winners (and answering their questions) to our savvy CSFF Webmaster, Tina Kulesa. (Thank goodness for Tina!)

And now, to the bigger announcement. The votes for the first ever Readers’ Choice – Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction are in and counted. We have a winner!

Some important pieces of business. Special thanks to each person who voted. Your participation made this award possible!

A few well-meaning folks filled out the survey, indicating in the first question that they had not read any of the books. Because the sole requirement for participation was reading at least one of the nominations, those ballots were discarded.

In addition, a number of ballots marked as a second and/or third choice the same title they marked as a first choice. We counted the first choice but ignored the vote for second and/or third (since it’s not possible to consider a book your second or third choice when you’ve already declared it your first).

Despite the fact that 15 books were nominated, our winning novel claimed over 35 percent of the total number of first place votes. What’s more, the winner finished with over 50 votes more than the second place book.

Taking into consideration selections as the second or third choice, our winner received votes on over 50 percent of the surveys.

Clearly, readers have spoken.

    The winner of the 2009 Readers’ Choice – Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction is

I can’t help but think how fitting it is for Donita’s concluding book in the Dragon Keeper Chronicles to be the first winner of the CSACSF since one of her earlier volumes was the first book featured by CSFF Blog Tour.

Congratulations for this reader recognition, Donita!

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 1:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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Avoiding the Predictable


From the brief amount of study I’ve done regarding the topic of derivative fiction, I’ve come to believe that the real error a writer should avoid in any genre is predictability.

A dragon is not just a big snake, and a magic sword is not merely a very sharp piece of steel; at least, not unless an author fails to make anything more out of them. The stock elements of fantasy are only as dull as we allow them to be.
– “Quality in Epic Fantasy” by Alec Austin at Strange Horizons

I love that quote. It challenges me as a writer to go beyond the expected, to avoid the cliches, not only in language but in character and in plot.

When I was growing up and westerns were common, the classic character cliche was the bad guy wearing the black hat and the good guy wearing the white. The bad guy also often needed a shave, slouched, was cruel to women and children and animals, and spat a lot.

As far as predictable plots were concerned, common ones included the restless cowboy being “tamed” by the beautiful maiden in distress; the cavalry arriving in the nick of time to save the surrounded wagon train/settlement; against all odds and without the support of the fearful citizens, the skilled/cunning/brave lawman cleans up the crime-infested town.

I believe these character cliches and predictable plots nearly killed westerns. But along came Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and suddenly, no one cared that westerns weren’t done any more. We could debate what making outlaws into the protagonists said to or about our culture, but we can’t deny how much more interesting the story was than it would have been if the Pinkerton man was the hero.

I suspect much of the complaint against Christian fiction is actually a complaint about its predictability. After all, if a character is a Christian, there are Scriptural parameters that dictate how that person will behave. And if a character isn’t a Christian, there will be a set of beliefs or anti-beliefs that define that individual. Where are the surprises?

And how is a Christian to grow? Not by drifting from God. How is a non-Christian to grow? Not by remaining unrepentant. So the story seems laid out as soon as the players tip their hands regarding their worldview.

Must it be so? One solution some authors apparently have come upon is to ignore Christianity, at least when it comes to playing a significant part in the plot or character development. These are the books I’d like to see renamed as clean fiction.

But back to the subject of predictability. It seems to me, if a magic sword is only as dull as we allow it, then a Christian or a conversion is only as dull as we allow it.

Contests, Contests, Contests


The voting for the first ever Readers’ Choice – Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction is over. All that’s left is the counting. Meanwhile, two other contests are still underway. One is the November CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award I’ve mentioned already.

The other is a contest run by Jeff Gerke and Marcher Lord Press to select a book that will be published in the Spring 2010 Marcher Lord Press line.

I received a press release announcing this contest and calling for entries some time ago. The problem is, I never got word that the actual voting had started. Come to find out, the first two phases of the contest are over. Happily, however, anyone can still participate in phases three and four.

The contest was structured to be a kind of American Idol of Christian speculative fiction, with the winner receiving a publishing contract from Marcher Lord Press. Well, actually there are two contests. It is the “Main Contest” that will bring the winner a contract. The other, the “Premise Contest,” will earn the winner an invitation to submit a complete manuscript to Marcher Lord Press.

In Phase One of the Main Contest, voters were presented with the title, subgenre, word count, premise, backcover blurb, and synopsis of 36 entries. Each voter was required to vote for at least three entries. After the votes were in, 18 entries advanced to Phase Two.

At this juncture, potential voters could download the first 500 words of each novel. Voters were instructed to choose between 3 and 6 entries based primarily on whether or not they would want to keep reading the book or perhaps buy it. In many respects this reminds me of the Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent contest except the entries receiving the most votes were the ones to advance (rather than a Secret Agent making the determination).

Voting in Phase Two ended Monday. The entries that are advancing to Phase Three, in alphabetical order, are

  • Altar
  • Chase the Shadows
  • H2O
  • The Last Apostle
  • The Sending
  • The Sword of the Patron
  • This Side of Eden
  • Vinnie’s Diner

Apparently there will be a poll once Phase Three goes live. I couldn’t find the information just now, but I read that this phase will be based on a number of pages (found it—first thirty pages) with three finalists being chosen. Phase Four will be sixty pages, I believe, with the winner being the selection with the most votes.

Sounds like fun. I wish I would have known when the contest part actually started. I also wish the instructions were clearer. I found it hard to uncover the information I needed to become a participant. At the Marcher Lord Press site, there’s only a small announcement about the contest, with a link, in the upper right hand corner of the home page, under Latest News.

First, it’s helpful to know that the contest is called Marcher Lord Select. Second, the contest is being conducted at the WhereTheMapEnds forums, called The Anomaly , which is where the link in the announcement takes you. This is the part I found off-putting. I expected to go to a site telling me about the contest but found myself at a forum with threads that did not refer to “Contest.” Third, participation requires registration in the forum, a simple, five minute procedure.

I still haven’t found the polls, but I’m guessing the phase one and two polls were taken down once the deadline passed. In the next few days I’ll look for a Sub-Board called Phase 3—Main Contest (I don’t have time to participate in that and in the Premise Contest).

At any rate, Jeff is trying to decide if there will be a two or three week period before the next vote. I’m guessing he soon will post the link to the download that allows access to the Phase Three entries. I went ahead and downloaded the Phase Two selections and will read the winning entries so I’ll be ready when Phase Three goes live.

Why not jump in and participate? Contests are fun!

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