Venom and Song Tour Wrap

Great tour! Venom and Song by Wayne Batson and Christopher Hopper stirred a lot of conversation, with more on the way. The books to our Canada members arrived late and while each posted during the tour, they said they would also be adding a review when they had read the book.

In all thirty-nine bloggers posted seventy-seven articles, some humorous in keeping with sections of the book, and others serious, aligning with the over all tenor of the story.

Now all that’s left is to name the September Top Tour Blogger. Here are the eligible participants and links (the check marks) to their articles. Then it’s up to you. 😉

CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 3

My turn. I’ve spent a good part of the day reading other blog posts from CSFF tour participants, and now I get to say what I think. One of the cool things about the tour, though, is that as I read what other people are saying, my thoughts crystallize a bit more. And I have to say, they needed some crystallizing.

I recently read (on an agent’s blog, I think, but don’t quote me on that) the best way to evaluate a book is to see if it accomplished what it set out to accomplish. That made sense to me. As a guide, it helps me give an assessment of a book that goes beyond, Well, I liked it (or not)! Which brings me to my review of Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper (Thomas Nelson).

The Story. This second in the Berinfell Prophecies continues the story where Curse of the Spider King ended. The young elven lords, three teenage girls and four teenage boys, newly arrived from earth, must train in the history, culture, fighting techniques, and use of their individual powers. But most importantly, they must learn to work together, which is where their true strength lies.

Clearly, they will need all the strength available to them because the plan is to take the battle to the Spider King. The time is right, the prophecies give every indication that victory is at hand. And yet, there will be a cost.

Strengths. The greatest aspect of this book, I think, is its appeal to the target audience (see yesterday’s post for a more detailed analysis of this point). The authors “get” young teens and late pre-teens. They understand how they think, and the story will resonate with those readers.

There are also important themes woven into the story, the greatest being the need to work in unity as opposed to disharmony (see Monday’s post for further discussion of this point)—the greatest theme, but by no means the only one. The story also shows the need to accept one’s gifts (abilities) and work to grow them for the good of others. There are examples of sacrificial love, submitting to those who are wiser and more experienced or to those in authority, depending on God, and not underestimating someone based on appearance. In fact, the falsity of the outward appearance is a recurrent theme first introduced in Curse of the Spider King.

Beyond these important lessons—all good things for teens to learn—the story is fast paced and unpredictable. There’s not really a point when I felt like I knew for sure what was coming next. About the time I thought I saw which way the story was going, it changed. Not in a random way, however. The surprises were, for the most part, set up well.

The imaginative elements were another strength. There were cool hidden rooms with old parchment and wicked birds that turned out to be good. There were amazing capturing devices and some impressive natural powder used for offense. There were some hideous baddies and a bear of an ally (who reminded me of three-headed Fluffy). Lots and lots more. A room that was booby-trapped. A betrayer that betrayed more than once. You name it—from places to powers, the imaginative elements were impressive.

Weaknesses. I’m pretty sure that what I consider to be weaknesses, the target-age reader won’t even notice. But I tend to think these things might be the difference between Venom and Song being a well-liked book versus a well-loved book.

Others have mentioned the omniscient point of view and the many characters. These two factors keep readers at a distance. This may work for teens. And yet, I would like to see the reader drawn in closer so that when danger comes, when tragedy strikes, there’s an emotional response, not just an adrenaline rush.

In addition, this story felt big and yet it went by so fast, it didn’t go down deep. Some things were introduced that showed great potential, then faded away to insignificance. (I. E. how did the seven lords continue on their way when the gnomes had burned their boots? Were they so toughened by their training that it wasn’t an issue—apart from the initial pain they experience upon waking? That’s a tiny example. I’d rather see the point omitted altogether rather than introduced and go nowhere).

My guess is the writing and editing was fast because of deadlines. Consequently there was an abundance of telling. At times I felt like I was reading a screenplay with the action delivered via exposition rather than carefully sculpted for the reader to experience along with the characters.

There were some bobbles, too, such as Jimmy going down the zip line twice.

But will the readers to whom the story is aimed notice these things? I doubt it very much. If they do, they’ll tuck it away and keep on going because they’ll want to keep up with the break-neck pace.

Recommendation. For “tweeners”—young people between the ages of twelve and fourteen—this is a great story. Some middle graders as young as ten may also enjoy the book, though there is considerable violence, none of which is graphic. Parents should read this with their children, and as Jason Joyner discussed on day one of the tour, perhaps they should read it out loud as a family.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 2

I may have mentioned that Venom and Song by Wayne Batson and Christopher Hopper (Thomas Nelson) is a young adult fantasy, but apparently Amazon has it listed as a middle grade novel. Neither is quite accurate. A better description, though book stores don’t have a section labeled in this way, is a “tweener” book—not middle grade, not young adult.

Since I taught “tweeners” (ages twelve to fourteen) for years, I am somewhat familiar with that audience. In fact, when I first started writing, I wanted to create stories for this group that was, at the time, overlooked. Consequently, I’m happy that Wayne and Christopher, along with a handful of other Christian fantasy writers, have stepped up to meet the challenge.

Here are some reasons why I think the Berinfell Prophecies, of which Venom and Song is book 2, give tweeners what they’re looking for.

Tweener humor. This is slightly different than regular humor. A part of the requisite elements is bodily functions, and Venom and Song provides just the right touch with the little problem the gnome king has. 😳

A distant perspective. Tweeners are self-conscious and consequently not at the “getting in touch with yourself” stage. Above all, they want to feel normal (though most don’t) and fit in. The omniscient perspective in which Venom and Song is written allows for some distance—some non-threatening distance that I think the target audience may prefer.

Fast pace. In response to one reviewer, Wayne used the term “high energy” about his co-author. I think the term fits Venom and Song like a pair of Spandex biker shorts. 😆 From the first page, the story is action oriented. Danger, intrigue, and betrayal alternate with near-death experiences. Nothing slow or meandering about this one.

Tweener themes. The story has well-crafted themes that tweeners won’t miss but also won’t reject because of a strong-handed delivery. I suspect instead, many will see themselves in at least one of the characters—the unloved son, the bully who lashes out because of his anger, the pushed-to-perform daughter, the girl who doesn’t fit in, the nerd, the jock, the perfect student.

Each of these true-to-life personas was established in book 1 of the series, Curse of the Spider King. Now in book 2, the characters find the assumptions upon which they constructed their paradigm for living no longer hold true. In fact, maybe they never did.

Was Kat ever ugly because she was different? She thought so, but now she finds it isn’t true. Was it ever true? Was Kiri Lee’s worth only in the applause she received for her performance? Was Jimmy’s life ever worthless because he didn’t receive the love at home he so desperately craved? On and on the story takes the teens who will identify with these types of struggles and questions.

I suspect there are factors I’m leaving out, but I’m quite confident the elements I’ve named make this a very appealing book to tweeners.

Lots of buzz on the CSFF tour about the book. You won’t want to miss the excellent interview Amy Browning has with Wayne or John Otte‘s confession leading to an analysis of Christian fiction. Jason Joyner has some heartfelt words about reading the book aloud to his sons, and Jeff Chapman once again has some worthwhile analysis of the book.

These are just a few of the highlights. Any number of reviews are available, and it’s through the accumulation of comments, I think, that you can get a real feel for how readers are receiving this book.

Take time to check out the check marks in the list at the end of yesterday’s post. Each one is a link to a specific tour article.

CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 1

This week the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper.

Unfortunately, I’ve been late on this one—late and hasty. So here are my errors. After telling co-author Christopher that I would correct the errant link to his blog, I forgot, so most of the tour participants are posting an old link (there’s no /blog after the .com).

I also sent out the notices to our members late in the week, so some didn’t notify me in time to have their links included on everyone’s list. Then there is our month-old member Sarah whose link I mangled last month … and failed to correct on the list I sent out. 😳

Confession, they say, is good for the soul, and I’m hoping it’s good for the CSFF blog tour so visitors interested in learning what bloggers are saying about Venom and Song can find what they’re looking for.

As per my usual pattern, I’ll be discussing aspects of the book or its content today and tomorrow, then give my review on Wednesday.

The most striking theme, to me, in this YA fantasy is unity in diversity.

This second installment in the Berinfell Prophecies features seven main characters. Seven. Seven different teens. One is a jock, another a musician. There’s a bully and a kid who never succeeded in anything. You get the drift. Each is unique.

Upon reaching their teen years, however, each develops an equally unique magical gift. But as they discover their place in the fantasy world to which they go, these seven teens learn they must work together to accomplish what they need to do.

It’s a wonderful point, one made clear through the plot elements. I couldn’t help but think a lot of adults need to read a book such as this to learn about working together rather than pulling apart.

God gave Christ’s followers very specific commands—love our neighbor, love our brother, love our enemy, to “malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”

Here’s the contrast:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.

– Titus 3:9-11

Somehow, no matter how clear the Bible is, this point doesn’t seem to get home. A handful of professing believers assume the mantel of purity police. I read a post today (not from anyone in CSFF, I assure you) who began by decrying the evils of Narnia and C. S. Lewis as a heretic.

Certainly, while I believe readers must be discerning, must think about and evaluate the books we read, there’s a point of foolishness and a way of speaking about others that becomes divisive.

May the Berinfell Prophecies teach young adults and adults alike that being different doesn’t have to mean being divisive.

See what others on the tour are saying about Venom and Song:

Meet A Winner

The first time I went to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, I rode the bus. It was not a happy experience, mostly because I went at night, arrived tired, and stayed that way a good bit of the time.

The following year, some while before the conference, I pulled out the trusty list of attendees Mount Hermon supplied and started emailing locals to see if anyone from my area was driving up and might have room for a passenger.

While several people replied, only one looked like it would work out. I have to be honest. I had reservations. My traveling buddy was to be a man I had never met. Didn’t know him from Adam or from Jack the Ripper. 😀

Rich with his wife Sheryl

I laugh now because Rich Bullock, the writer who offered to car pool the six hours north, is one of the top-of-the-line Good Guys.

But I had another concern. What would we talk about for all that time? Or would it be OK for me to nap or stare silently out the window?

Silly me. I had prayed about this trip, and God has a way of giving abundantly more than we ask or think. I was driving with another writer, and we pretty much talked about writing non-stop.

Pretty much. I did learn that Rich and I are twins. Well, not actually, but we do share the exact same birth date—month, day, year.

So began a writer friendship. For the next three years Rich and I carpooled to Mount Hermon, adding in a couple other passengers along the way. One year we even had the opportunity to be in the same Mentoring Clinic, so I got a chance to read and critique Rich’s work, and he mine.

I soon learned he had an excellent eye and spot-on suggestions. For a short time we were in an online critique group together, and I saw more and more that Rich knew what he was doing on both sides of the writing desk. Even after that group petered out, I’d occasionally shoot a piece of work to him for his feedback, and he to me.

Consequently, it was my privilege to read a chapter from his new work in progress, Storm Lake, back in February when he was preparing it for another mentoring clinic at Mount Hermon.

And now, seven months later, after a somewhat hopeful agent rejection, Rich hit contest pay dirt. He submitted Storm Lake/Storm Song to the ACFW Genesis contest, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category, and won!

I can’t tell you how excited I am for him. Here’s a writer who has taken the time to learn the craft and isn’t afraid to have his work before a group of tough critics. He’s one of those writers who gives back, too, having volunteered for years as a contest judge himself.

Hats off to all the ACFW winners—in all categories of both the Genesis (opening pages of an unpublished writer’s manuscript) and Carol (formerly the Book of the Year) contests. But I have to say, I’m especially happy for my friend Rich.

His is a name you’ll want to remember, especially if you enjoy mystery/suspense. His writing is sensory and transports you into the scenes he writes. I can see readers up late at night, all lights burning, covers pulled tight under the chin, but unable to put the latest Rich Bullock novel down!

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm  Comments (5)  
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To Lie Or Not To Lie

Bryan Davis asked an interesting question on his Facebook page yesterday: when, if ever, is it OK to tell a lie? Actually, he was asking in relationship to a character in a story, and the specific instance was in regard to saving a life.

Back in April I explored a more broad form of this question in a post discussing Lost Mission by Athol Dickson. But from time to time I’ve thought specifically about the issue of lying, primarily because some of the heroes of the Bible told lies.

Here, then, is what I wrote about the issue yesterday (with just a little editing 😉 ). In part I was responding to earlier comments that pointed to the idea that if God blessed the person, it was verification that their lying was justified.

    Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife—twice, and it is clear in the second incident that the king who suffered for it thought it was wrong.

    [Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” Gen. 20:9]

    Yet God blessed Abraham.

    Jacob deceived Isaac, yet God still gave him His covenant promise. Clearly, Esau thought Jacob was wrong, and even Jacob thought he was wrong—first when he was afraid he’d be caught, then twenty years later when he went home and anticipated facing his brother.

    My point is, I don’t think blessing from God is evidence that the lies were OK. I think they were sinful and God forgave them.

    But what about in the instance of saving a life? Abraham thought his lie was justified because he believed he was saving a life—his own. But what about saving someone else’s life?

    When David went on the run from Saul, he lied to the priest about being on a mission for the king (see I Sam. 21:1-10; I Sam 22:11-19). The consequence was that the priest and all those serving with him were killed—over seventy of them, if I remember correctly [actually eighty-five]. Yet Jesus used the incident as an example of “law breaking” that was OK—a layman eating the Bread of the Presence which was against the Mosaic Law (Matt. 12:1-5). Jesus gave no commentary about the lie David told.

    Yet Jesus says that Satan is a liar and the father of lies.

    I’m leaning toward this idea: My heart is the issue.

    If I don’t want to lie because I want to preserve my own righteousness, I think I’m like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’s parable who wanted to keep themselves clean, so avoided the man who’d been mugged. [Or like the Pharisees who wanted to remain clean so they could celebrate the Passover and therefore wouldn’t go into the Praetorium to speak with Pilate when they wanted to ask him to crucify Jesus (John 18:28).]

    If, on the other hand, I don’t want to lie because I want to please God, I think He can work no matter what.

    I guess that sounds quite relativistic. Let me be clear. I think lying is sin. Period. I think God can forgive it and work in the same way He worked when Joseph’s brothers meant him evil—God meant their actions for good.

    A person may lie for a good cause, rather than trusting
    God to work in the situation. The lie is still a sin, but God can use it for His purpose. The story of David mentioned above illustrates this. [Even as it illustrates that lies have consequences.]

So what do you think? My comments came at the end of the discussion. Because Bryan had to get back to work, he brought the responses to an end, so I never got much feedback and would love to hear how others view lying for a good cause (especially to preserve life).

Published in: on September 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm  Comments (16)  
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Examples And Patterns

In a recent post “Art: Painting Inside The Lines” I mentioned God providing Moses with a pattern for the tabernacle He commanded the people of Israel to construct. This idea of creating a pattern seems to be one of God’s ways of working.

In a very bold, dramatic move, He chose a people of no special standing and set them apart to be holy as He was holy. The idea was, the nations around Israel would see this relationship God had with His chosen people and how He blessed them, and they would therefore acknowledge God as God.

First God set Himself up as the standard of holiness. Next He set Israel up as the model for relationship.

In another bold move, He later gave His Son as the One to whom believers are to be conformed. In other words, Jesus is the “gold standard,” and we are to allow God to mold us and make us after His image.

The Apostle Paul even writes that we are to be imitators of him as he is an imitator of Christ.

Patterns, examples, standards. You’d almost conclude a model is worth a thousand pictures, and we know what a picture is worth.

Here’s my question. How is it that Christendom has adopted so much of the culture, as if the culture is the pattern, the standard, the example?

We see it in churches that adopt a “business model” and try to “sell” Christianity or their own local assembly.

We see it in Christians trying to produce a moral nation rather than working to make disciples as Jesus instructed.

We see it in Christian bloggers who decide to “heresy hunt” rather than love our neighbors when Jesus clearly said our love would be what the world would be attracted to.

But I have to bring it home to my own industry. We see it in Christian writers who imitate secular writers and popular content rather than setting the standard and dictating the trends.

I just read a somewhat related blog post by Rebeca Seitz—not about writing but about marketing/promotion, not about content but about strategy. That’s OK, I think her point is well made.

We can fuss and fume and complain, or we can lead. Set the pattern. Invite others to follow.

Of course I don’t think that’s something a Christian should decide apart from God’s direction. Even in our leading, we still need to be followers first.

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 5:36 pm  Comments Off on Examples And Patterns  
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Standing Up For Magic

Monday being my regular blog day at Speculative Faith, I posted an article yesterday about magic (a reworking of three articles I’d first posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction nearly four years ago). One of the commenters (and fellow Spec Faith poster) Stephen Burnett recounted a question that came up at the recent ACFW Conference. Seems one of the conferees was asking how a Christian fantasy writer is to handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting. But here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … God’s work is miraculous, not magic, someone may well say. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Be that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

Published in: on September 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm  Comments (7)  
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Living By The Terms Of The Treaty

When I was growing up, Saturday afternoon meant old B movies on TV, often something western. One particular story has stayed with me.

What history calls The Indian Wars dominated the West. Settlers and miners and railroad men and soldiers clashed with any number of Indian groups, from Chickasaw to Seminole.

In this particular story, a compassionate and understanding American, with a number of Indian friends, was convinced to take the position as agent for what was the equivalent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As part of his job, he was required to negotiate an acceptable treaty with the tribes waring against the US government.

Against all odds, he was successful—except, treaties needed to be ratified by the Senate. The political climate at the time was against him, and rather than agreeing to the terms he had promised the Indians, the government sent troops to implement the Indians’ forced removal from their land.

The story stayed with me because I felt the betrayal this Indian agent experienced—as both the betrayed and the betrayer. He was let down by the government that said it would stand behind his negotiations (the stipulation he demanded as the condition for him taking the position as Indian agent). As a result, in the eyes of the people who had trusted him, he became their Brutus.

It struck me recently that professing Christians who take up with false teachers are like those politicos in that old-time movie. They say they will abide by whatever their representative decides, but when the terms of the agreement come down, they don’t really want to keep their word. They find some way of changing the rules, of canceling the treaty.

In essence, they leave their representative hanging out to dry. The world, to whom He has gone, point and laugh.

    Ha-ha, they say they love, but look at the nasty things they put on their signs when they picket the streets.

    They say they don’t love the world or the things of the world, but listen to how greedy their preachers are.

    They say they live like Jesus, but they have marital breakups, addictions, bad debt, carry grudges, sneer and snark, just like the rest of us.

When we who bear the name of Christ, do not obey Him, we aren’t much better. Our disobedience affects how others look at Jesus in the same way that a false Christian’s inconsistencies end up staining the name of Christ.

I’m reminded of an Old Testament incident recorded in 2 Chronicles 18. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, allied himself with Ahab, king of Israel. When they were preparing for war, Jehoshaphat wanted to inquire of a prophet of the Lord.

All the other prophets said the kings would have great success if they prosecuted the war, but the one prophet of the Lord Jehoshaphat insisted they bring in, said they would meet with defeat.

And what did Jehoshaphat do? He ignored the prophet of the Lord.

Why, I’ve wondered, did he bother to ask for the man to speak a message from God if he wasn’t planning to listen?

Then too, why do people today take up the name of Christ and ignore His Word?

But that forces me to ask, do I ignore His Word, too—at least the parts I don’t like? Things like, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing”?

I guess the question I need to ask is this: how much do I care about the reputation of He who I say I’m following?

Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 6:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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I Don’t Like Change

Anyone who knows me is probably laughing at the title of this post. It’s almost an understatement. I mean, look how long it took me to change my blog template. (And I hope you like this one because I’m apt to keep it for quite some time! 😉 )

Well, recently I learned that Bloglines, the place I collected the blogs I wanted to read regularly, will cease operation October 1. YIKES, I thought. I do not want all those blogs coming to my email box as some subscriptions require.

I’ve been on the lookout for something comparable to Bloglines and I think I found it. Google Reader seems to be a good alternative. Exporting my subscriptions from Bloglines even went smoothly. (Counting my template change, I now have a record two in a row technology changes that went well the first time! 😮 )

Anyway, all this is really nothing more than telling you why I have nothing of import to post today. I spent my blog time figuring Google Reader out.

Now I need to see if they have a button or something I can put in my sidebar.

Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 5:39 pm  Comments (5)  
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