Anything For A Story


Sea_Cliff_Bridge_During_Rain_StormWestern society lives for pleasure–an adrenaline high or sexual titillation or culinary delights–if it feels good, then that’s what we want. The sad thing is that the parts of our day that don’t feed into these wants are often considered boring or second rate or something to be endured, to be gotten through.

Any wonder, then, that TV ads tell stories or make people laugh? The motto seems to be, whatever it takes to keep people entertained. Horrors if a product is described in boring terms. Why, even the dire warnings about possible side effects to prescription drugs are communicated in soothing tones while pictures of active, healthy seniors playing golf or basketball or swimming speed past our eyes.

So it’s not a surprise that TV news has joined the entertainment business. That happened some time ago. The sensational gets a hearing, especially if it comes with pictures.

What seems to be a new twist to this scenario, however, is the interpretation of facts to make them entertaining, one way or the other!

This tendency seems particularly noticeable here in SoCal concerning our weather. Maybe the meteorologists are simply tired of having nothing much to talk about, but I think it has more to do with creating a sensation. That, it seems, is now the role of TV news.

As most people have heard, all of California has been experiencing a drought. But at long last, news poured in this week that we had rain in the forecast. But not just any rain. We were looking at the BIGGEST STORM in YEARS! In fact, the “in years” turns out to be the biggest to hit the southland in three years.

Well, yes, since we’ve been having a drought during that time, there haven’t been any big storms. So this storm that has triggered mandatory evacuations and sandbagging and the construction of berms and barricades–to keep runoff out of homes and high surf out of neighborhoods–isn’t actually a particularly large one if you were comparing it to the storms in a non-drought year.

But the news media can’t pass up an opportunity to sensationalize even the weather. We can’t simply celebrate the fact that we’re getting rain, that farmers who have dealt with the lack of water, and ranchers who have had to truck in feed for their cattle, and small towns that have seen their wells dry up, are getting a little help.

Rain can’t be good. It can’t be an answer to prayer, most assuredly. Instead it has to be sensational. The irony of it all is that the one mention I heard of the rain and its affect on the drought was that it would help very little.

Sure, I get that this one storm isn’t going to replenish the lakes and rivers that have steadily shrunk over the last several years. But no help?

Must the story always be woe and beware? Well, yes, apparently the extreme and the dire fit the entertainment model, so that’s the kind of news we get. Even for the weather.

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 5:49 pm  Comments Off on Anything For A Story  
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Christians And Gay Rights


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoYesterday the Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed a bill that would have permitted people to refuse service to gays and lesbians on the grounds of religious persuasion. You could think of it as the equivalent of the military’s alternate service for those drafted into the armed services who were pacifists. The intent, as I understand it, was to accommodate people who believe, based on their religion, that homosexuality is wrong.

Of course both local and national news shows, on every channel, covered the story, often tagging it as a clash between religious rights and personal freedom. I couldn’t help but think of the First Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees a person the right to free expression of his religion. I don’t see anything in the Constitution about freedom of expression of a person’s sexuality.

I also have thought how early in the debate about “gay rights” those advocating for inclusion often argued that what a person did in the bedroom was their own business, no one else’s. That argument has been replaced.

Just last month a particular ethnic group here in SoCal held a parade. Originally a group of LGBT advocates were denied permission to be a part, but that decision was reversed. On parade day, the news shows covered this “happy end” to the conflict as the contingent of homosexuals marched behind their rainbow banner. Presumably what they do in their bedrooms is now something to celebrate.

Christians, who are uniquely singled out because of our opposition to homosexuality–not Muslims or any other group who also oppose that behavior–are portrayed with growing frequency as bigots.

The most bizarre news clip last night was the interview with a member of the LGBT community who was holding up pages and pages of pictures of lawmakers who supported the Arizona bill or who have taken a conservative position on marriage. This individual explained that all these lawmakers would be boycotted.

In other words, if a person says he opposes homosexuality on religious grounds, he would be discriminated against. But somehow, their boycott is not discrimination while exercising your right to express your religious beliefs, is.

The thing I don’t like is the fact that the news media is framing this discussion. Over and over, the same snippet came on the air showing people celebrating who were holding signs urging the veto of the bill. The implication was that this was a big crowd in front of Arizona’s Capitol. And yet the camera never panned out, never showed more than two rows of people, and the people they did show were not tightly packed together.

Of course, one station also aired their recent poll, showing that 52% of Americans now support same sex marriage. I think they forgot to mention the margin of error in the poll (usually a +/- 3%, sometimes greater) or whether it was conducted scientifically or informally. The point is, there’s a great attempt to create a bandwagon effect.

Homosexuality, which is sin, is now being presented as the position which a good, kind, caring person will naturally support. One Tweet, for example, thanked Christians who don’t discriminate.

Such loaded words. Once Christians who said homosexuality is sin were called homophobes. The name was used as a shaming tactic. No one wants to admit they’re afraid of “gayness.”

But the rhetoric has changed. Now homosexuality is getting traction as a civil right and therefore opposing it is discrimination and someone taking that stand is a bigot. This approach is more aggressive. It’s not shame but condemnation. It is a way of saying the religious person is wrong and the gay person is right.

Which reminds me of these verses in Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
And clever in their own sight! (5:20-21)

At the root of the LGBT issue is the fact that those who are choosing against their God-given bodies are being wise in their own eyes. They know what they are like inside and ought not be hampered by the biological organs they’ve been born with–the body which God formed in their mother’s womb.

To me, what’s most interesting in all this is the admission of this inner being–you’d almost call it a soul or spirit–which the LGBT community listens to. If they feel like a woman inside, it doesn’t matter if they have a male body. The inside is what counts.

But that brings up the question: what happens when the body dies? The body, so many people say today, ends life. But this inside someone the LGBT community identifies as the stronger-than-the-physical entity of personhood–does it die with the body? This question, I would think, offers a conundrum for the gay person. If the body ends it all, then why should this inner person hold sway over the body? And if the inner person lives on after the body dies, does that mean there really is life after death, and a whole supernatural world with a God who will judge according to what a person has done during his time on earth?

As I see it, Christians have the greatest opportunity now to speak into the lives of people in the LGBT community. What they believe about their inner person determining their gender identity can open up a discussion about what happens to that inner person.

May we focus our attention on rescuing the lost and not on winning arguments.

Why Morality In Fiction, Or You Experience What You Read


The best books take readers to new places

The best books take readers to new places


I know this isn’t a great hook, but I think you should know up front: this post is largely a reprint of an article I wrote for Spec Faith in August, 2011. The subject leads naturally into a look at morality in fiction, and honestly, I didn’t think I could summarize the content adequately. I’ll add a few remarks at the end, but here is the original with slight editorial changes.

– – – – –

    Stories matter. Any reader can tell you this. We cry because a beloved old yeller dog, which never actually existed, dies. We laugh at the pig’s tail applied to the imaginary greedy Dudley Dursley. We cheer when the fictitious Aslan returns alive.

    Clearly stories affect us in powerful ways. We skip meals and stay awake late at night. We “forget to breathe” and find our muscles coiled tight until our heroine is out of danger.

    Such physical effects indicate that all this pretend is very real. But how can this be?

    At long last, scientists are beginning to take note and study the power of fiction. One of those leading the way is Keith Oatley, professor emeritus in the Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology at the University of Toronto. He and his colleagues devised a way to measure the effects of literature on the human psyche. In summary

    the central assumption Oatley developed to frame their research [is this]: “When people are reading literary fiction, they’re creating in their mind a simulation of experience. It’s a simulation that’s cognitive as well as emotional….” (“Toronto scientists determine that fiction can change personalities” By Natalie Samson, accessed August 12, 2011 – emphasis mine)

    In essence, it seems these scientists are saying we readers have our own little holodecks in our minds, and consequently we mentally experience the stories we read. And that changes us.

    At least that’s the hypothesis.

    black_horseI get that. Growing up, I was a huge fan of the Walter Farley books (The Black Stallion, The Black Stallion Returns, The Black Stallion and Satan, The Black Stallion’s Filly, and many more, my favorite being The Black Stallion Mystery). Somewhere during that reading phase, I decided I wanted a horse. I knew I’d bond with a horse and that I could ride like the wind.

    At that point, however, I’d done nothing with horses except ride an old nag at summer camp where we walked our mounts behind a guide for an hour.

    I never did own a horse, but my confidence around them did not wane, despite my own lack of experience. You see, I didn’t feel inexperienced.

    Years later when I visited a friend who did own a horse and we went riding, the particular mount I was on tried a clever trick to unseat me. My friend was somewhat amazed that I didn’t end up sprawled in the dirt.

    Some time later I did a “rent-a-horse” ride in Colorado. After several return visits, the guide let me take my horse out on my own. Again I had the experience of a horse trying to deposit me on the ground, this one by rearing.

    No problem. After all, I’d experienced much worse from the Black. Oh, wait. No, that wasn’t actually me. That was a character in a book. But it felt like me.

    It felt as if those experiences had become part of my acquired knowledge. Not in a conscious way, to be sure, but as I look back, I find it easy to believe that I wasn’t fearful and didn’t overreact in the real life circumstances because of the simulated experiences of my childhood.

    How many other experiences have I lived through behind the eyes of the characters in books I’ve loved? And how have those changed me?

    Oatley, whose scholarly work Such Stuff As Dreams: The psychology of fiction (Wiley-Blackwell) is now available in North America, and his fellow scientists developed experiments to “examine what Oatley calls the ‘big five personality traits’ – extroversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness” (ibid).

    I don’t know about those particulars, but here’s what Oatley’s publisher says:

    Oatley richly illustrates how fiction represents, at its core, a model that readers construct in collaboration with the writer. This waking dream enables us to see ourselves, others, and the everyday world more clearly.

    Yes, fiction matters, with readers and writers collaborating. And the end result is clearer vision.

    Always? Or can fiction lead us to believe something about ourselves and the everyday world that is not true?

– – – – –
And this is where morality comes in. Dr. Zhivago, the movie, was one of the first pieces of fiction that made me aware of the power of a story to affect my moral compass. Here was a story about a man in the midst of political upheaval who loved two different women, each love shown to be beautiful and right. Was it true that a person could love two different people with the same passion? And if so, did loving them both justify sexual involvement with both?

At some point during my reading experience, I also became aware of my tendency to mimic the speech patterns I was reading, if only in my head. Unfortunately, this bent included a variety of cuss words, and at times I found the first word that came to mind in certain situations was one I’d copied from a character in a book.

These experiences and others made the idea of reading as “a waking dream,” as a type of holographic experience, resonate with me.

If reading is a collaboration, though, between the reader and writer, at what point does the writer have a moral obligation to the reader?

I remain convinced that theology should inform our fiction, but I believe theology should also inform our morality. How do the two intersect?

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 6:02 pm  Comments Off on Why Morality In Fiction, Or You Experience What You Read  
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Morality In Fiction


Prager-ZachariasIn my recent brief series, Theology Versus Morality, (Parts 1, 2, and 3), I essentially took a stand for theology in Christian fiction while calling into question the validity of judging a novel by its morality. For example, in part 2 I said,

I tend to think too many Christians put the cart of morality before the horse of theology. In fact we advocate certain behavior without the foundational belief system that can rightly shape a person’s actions.

Later I added

When it comes to fiction, I think there’s a segment of Christian readers who want their brand of morality mirrored in the stories they read. In fact, for some, the morality might be more important than the theology.

I think that position is bad for fiction and bad for Christianity.

Does that mean that morality has no place in fiction? Should we write the story of adultery with nothing but a suggestion that a way of escape exists? That would be truthful to the way the world is and truthful to theology.

But is it sufficient for the needs of society?

I look at western society, and I see a growing cesspool of immorality. We have TV programs with titles like Scandal and Revenge and Betrayal. Others focus on the criminal mind and blood splatters and entries wound, with the intent to show the process of catching those who perpetrate psychotic and cruel behavior.

We have TV news magazines discussing yet another school shooting, one many people forget because “only” three children died.

Last night’s news carried stories of an old man struck down with intent by a hit-and-run driver in a gas station as he walked toward the office to pay for his gas and of a twelve-year-old and his mother living next door to a state senator (i.e., not your usual violent-crime neighbor) who were bound and gagged while a crew of four robbed their home on a Sunday afternoon.

Further, an NBA athlete was celebrated this week as the first openly gay player in any of the four major sports in the US.

Then on Facebook today, one topic of discussion revolves around an article about the growing advocacy for “polyamory” especially by the media. Clearly, if marriage is no longer allowed to be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, why should it be limited to a single person with another single person, instead of multiples?

There’s more, from the LGBT community successfully advocating here in SoCal for children to pick the bathroom, locker room, gender sports team, based on how they feel, not on their biology, to the new idea for losing weight based on Yoga meditation and fasting during certain phases of the moon.

The muck and mire of the world is thick and growing thicker.

So do Christian novelists simply tag along, showing society as it is, without addressing morality in our stories? Do we write to the edge, and when the edge shifts further from us, scurry along behind in an effort to catch up? Quite honestly, I think that description fits too much Christian fiction.

Many of the strictures that writers complained about are gone. Christian fiction has characters that are divorced, have affairs, drink, see ghosts, see demons–all things that once were considered taboo. But as general market fiction played at the edges, Christian writers begged to be allowed the same latitude.

The problem, as I see it, is that this move toward a reversal of moral constriction is built on the same error as that which established the legalistic mores in the first place–theology does not undergird the view of morality.

Interestingly, apologist Ravi Zacharias, in a discussion Saturday with radio personality Dennis Prager, identified three levels in which philosophy is passed on: (1) argumentation–reason; (2) art–the imagination; (3) “kitchen table conversation”–the daily statements of belief. To influence society, then, Zacharias says we must argue from reason, illustrate in our art, and live out our beliefs. The problem he says, is that we try to do number three without number one and number two.

Exacerbating the problem, I believe is something G. K. Chesterton identified:

Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art … There must always be a rich moral soil for any artistic growth.

So if society has lost its “rich moral soil,” how is art to illustrate the theology (philosophy) that underpins our beliefs?

In other words, we are in a downward spiral–a morally vacuous society that cannot produce art which will show us how to live morally.

There but for the grace of God are we all.

But God does give a greater grace. He is “opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble,” Scripture says.

So, what if Christian novelists determined to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified? What if we painted theology into every corner of our art–and won awards doing so? What if we stopped fighting to get cuss words into our stories or stopped counting the number of times the characters break the Ten Commandments, and started writing to show what God is like, to show His Son, to the best of our ability? What if we gave stories that illustrated the power of forgiveness or love for an enemy, neighbor, or stranger, or for God? What if our stories show what we say we believe?

Wouldn’t that be a step in the process of influencing our society to get out of the morass we are making?

Introducing Golden Daughter


It’s my privilege to be part of the cover reveal for Golden Daughter, next in the Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.

GoldenDaughtercover

BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS

IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.

But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams.

With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?

For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

Excerpt from Chapter 3

GOLDEN DAUGHTER

Sairu made her way from Princess Safiya’s chambers out to the walkways of the encircling gardens. The Masayi, abode of the Golden Daughters, was an intricate complex of buildings linked by blossom-shrouded walkways, calm with fountains and clear, lotus-filled pools where herons strutted and spotted fish swam.

Here she had lived all the life she could remember.
The Masayi was but a small part of Manusbau Palace, which comprised the whole of Sairu’s existence. She had never stepped beyond the palace walls. To do so would be to step into a world of corruption, corruption to which a Golden Daughter would not be impervious until she was safely chartered to a master and her life’s work was affixed in her heart and mind. Meanwhile, she must live securely embalmed in this tomb, waiting for life to begin.

Sairu’s mouth curved gently at the corners, and she took small steps as she had been trained—slow, dainty steps that disguised the swiftness with which she could move at need. Even in private she must maintain the illusion, even here within the Masayi.

A cat sat on the doorstep of her own building, grooming itself in the sunlight. She stepped around it and proceeded into the red-hung halls of the Daughter’s quarters and on to her private chambers. There she must gather what few things she would take with her—fewer things even than Jen-ling would take on her journey to Aja. For Jen-ling would be the wife of a prince, and she must give every impression of a bride on her wedding journey.

I wonder who my master will be? Sairu thought as she slid back the rattan door to her chamber and entered the quiet simplicity within. She removed her elaborate costume and exchanged it for a robe of simple red without embellishments. She washed the serving girl cosmetics from her face and painted on the daily mask she and her sisters wore—white with black spots beneath each eye and a red stripe down her chin. It was elegant and simple, and to the common eye it made her indistinguishable from her sisters.

The curtain moved behind her. She did not startle but turned quietly to see the same cat slipping into her room. Cats abounded throughout Manusbau Palace, kept on purpose near the storehouses to manage the vermin. But they did not often enter private chambers.

Sairu, kneeling near her window with her paint pots around her, watched the cat as it moved silkily across the room, stepped onto her sleeping cushions, and began kneading the soft fabric, purring all the while. Its claws pulled at the delicate threads. But it was a cat. As far as it was concerned, it had every right to enjoy or destroy what it willed.

At last it seemed to notice Sairu watching it. It turned sleepy eyes to her and blinked.

Sairu smiled. In a voice as sweet as honey, she asked, “Who are you?”

The cat twitched its tail softly and went on purring.

The next moment, Sairu was across the room, her hand latched onto the cat’s scruff. She pushed it down into the cushions and held it there as it yowled and snarled, trying to catch at her with its claws.

“Who are you?” she demanded, her voice fierce this time. “What are you? Are you an evil spirit sent to haunt me?”

“No, dragons eat it! I mean, rrrraww! Mreeeow! Yeeeowrl!”

The cat twisted and managed to lash out at her with its back feet, its claws catching in the fabric of her sleeve. One claw scratched her wrist, startling her just enough that she loosened her hold. The cat took advantage of the opportunity and, hissing like a fire demon, leapt free. It sprang across the room, knocking over several of her paint pots, and spun about, back-arched and snarling. Every hair stood on end, and its ears lay flat to its skull.

Sairu drew a dagger from her sleeve and crouched, prepared for anything. The smile lingered on her mouth, but her eyes flashed. “Who sent you?” she demanded. “Why have you come to me now? You know of my assignment, don’t you.”

Meeeeowrl,” the cat said stubbornly and showed its fangs in another hiss.

“I see it in your face,” Sairu said, moving carefully to shift her weight and prepare to spring. “You are no animal. Who is your master, devil?”

– – – – –
AUTHOR BIO:
Anne Elisabeth StenglAnne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the award-winning Tales of Goldstone Wood series, adventure fantasies told in the classic Fairy Tale style. Her books include Christy Award-winning Heartless and Veiled Rose, and Clive Staples Award-winning Starflower. She makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a passel of cats, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration and English literature at Grace College and Campbell University.

BOOK COVER: The [stunning!] cover illustration was done by Julia Popova. Visit her website to learn more about her and her fantastic work!

GIVEAWAY: Anne Elisabeth is offering any two of the first six Goldstone Wood novels as a giveaway prize! Winner’s choice of: Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, Dragonwitch, or Shadow Hand. [Editor’s note: I’d go for Starflower and Dragonwitch, if I were you, though I haven’t read Shadow Hand yet, so I reserve the right to change my mind. 😉 ] Go to her site and enter using the rafflecopter form.

Published in: on February 24, 2014 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Introducing Golden Daughter  
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CSFF Tour Wrap – One Realm Beyond


CSFFTopBloggerFeb14One reason I like blog tours is because I inevitably learn something from other tour members about the featured book or a related subject. The February tour for One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul is no different.

I learned, for example, that Mrs. Paul has put up a Pinterest board for my favorite character Bixby. You can learn some fascinating facts about the character from Julie Bihn’s post, “Five Things I Learned from Bixby’s Pinterest – CSFF Blog Tour.” I also learned about the appearance of dragons and serpents and the purpose of symbols in Shannon McDermott’s day 3 post.

There were some excellent reviews, such as this one by Chawna Schroeder and much discussion about favorite characters. (By my unofficial tally, it’s a tie between Bixby and Bridger).

In all, twenty-nine bloggers took part in the tour, posting forty-four articles. And now that the flurry of blogging and visiting other sites and commenting is settling, there are only two things left to do–buy your copy of One Realm Beyond, if you don’t have it yet, and put your hands together for this month’s winner of the CSFF Tour Top Blogger Award – Shannon McDermott.

Congratulations, Shannon!

Published in: on February 21, 2014 at 6:04 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Tour Wrap – One Realm Beyond  
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From The Rag Bag – 2014


All-3-Wilderking-BooksJust bits and pieces of this and that today.

Good news on the Christian fantasy front. Accomplished author and all-around nice guy Jonathan Rogers is re-releasing The Wilderking Trilogy, his middle grade fantasies about the feechie folk. They’re being published by Rabbit Room Press, the independent publisher that is putting out Andrew Peterson’s final Wingfeather Saga novel later this year. If you’re interested, you can pre-order Jonathan’s books from RRP.

I’m sad the blog tour for Donita Paul’s One Realm Beyond is over, though I still have a number of sites yet to visit. I love blog tours! 😉

Sticking with the genre for a bit, the nominations opened this week for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. Readers can nominate a book at either the award site or at SpecFaith. Already we have twenty-eight books that have been nominated. I hope readers will consider taking a look at that list and turning them into to be read books.

And now to the Olympics. I haven’t seen much of the Sochi games. To be honest, it’s a little hard to get excited about winter sports when we’re having days with temperatures reaching the high 70s. One of the highlights for me came early when snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg won the first US gold medal of the games. As it turns out, Sage is related to Gerry Jennings, a good friend, former colleague, and former neighbor of mine. She told me about him over a year ago–excited about his chances of making the Olympic team. And now he’s won gold!

I saw a Facebook notification about the women’s gold medal hockey game and hurried in to turn on the TV–just in time to see them receiving a consolation speech, having just lost in overtime. So was it disappointing that I’d missed the game or relief that I hadn’t spent two hours watching a game we lost? A little of both.

I’m about ready to call it quits as far as Yahoo! mail is concerned. That’s been my public email where editing clients write me. But there’s some glitch going on, though I downloaded a Yahoo! optimized edition of Firefox. I can read emails, but I can’t reply. I can type the H in Hi, but as soon as I try to add the i, a chat box opens. Yea, somethings not right. I keep holding out, hoping they’ll fix whatever is the problem, but no such luck.

The California drought persists in the southland. In our next-to-rainiest month we’ve had about an inch of rain, if that. Supposedly this week we had a chance of some rain. Tuesday was indeed cloudy, but today winds off the desert brought high temperatures and clear skies. It just feels so wrong, especially when so much of the rest of the country has been struggling through such a hard winter.

PowerElements_of Story Structure finalOn the writing front, I’ve made some small progress on the prequel to The Lore of Efrathah, but of course the real news is Power Elements of Story Structure, my writing instruction ebook. Just the other day, I got an email from Amazon–an ad really, for books in the education category, and Story Structure was the first on the list. I have to admit, that was . . . kind of a cool feeling. Sort of like seeing your book on the bookshelf at the book story, I imagine. Of course, I have no idea how many people Amazon sent that particular ad to. But it was nice to think that people I don’t know might see it and consider buying it.

Speaking of the book, if anyone has read it and would be willing to write a review, I’d be very grateful. I understand those are a big help in selling books on Amazon.

I think I’ve hopscotched from one topic to another enough for one day. Blessings on you.

CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 3


Donita PaulDonita Paul can claim a number of firsts. For example, her DragonKeeper books were the first Christian dragon books, at least that I’m aware of. DragonSpell came out just ahead of Bryan Davis’s Raising Dragons, which I happened to be critiquing before publication. Hers was also the first book CSFF featured back in 2006 when the tour started. In addition, she was the first recipient of the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction back in 2009.

Those are just interesting tidbits and not relevant to the rest of my post–a review of Donita’s latest young adult novel One Realm Beyond, book 1 of the Realm Walkers series published by Zondervan.

The Story. Young Cantor wants to be a realm walker. In fact, he’s destined to be a realm walker, but he cannot go off on adventures on his own until he receives permission from his guardian and mentor. Even then he must first travel to a particular location and choose his dragon partner, his constant, before proceeding to the Realm Walker Guild where he must train.

When at last Cantor starts out on his own, he’s faced with some surprises: a dragon who has picked him instead of the other way around, another realm walker named Bixby looking for her constant, and citizens who aren’t always willing to help him on his way. But the greatest surprise might be that the leaders who ought to be working with the Realm Walkers Guild to secure the safety and just treatment of the citizens, are actually the ones oppressing, robbing them, and kidnapping their young men.

What can two young, untrained realm walkers do to make a difference against the forces of the king? Especially without their dragons (unless you count Bridger, the tag-along dragon who Cantor doesn’t really want).

Multiverse_-_level_II.svg_Strengths. The Realm Walker series takes place in a different kind of fantasy world, more nearly a multiverse than anything. In her first post about One Realm Beyond, Jill Williamson discussed the unique world, offering several maps she found that helped her understand the description.

Interestingly, Bruce Hennigan a guest contributor at Spec Faith, recently wrote about the multiverse, so I had a picture I could call to mind. Whether it’s anything close to what Donita intended, I’ll let other readers be the judge.

At any rate, the whole concept of traveling through a portal from one plane to another is unique. C. S. Lewis, of course, had other worlds in his Narnia series, and Narnia itself could be accessed through a portal of sorts. The various worlds, however, were separate pools contained in a sort of holding place–obviously quite different than Donita’s stacked planes.

Besides this interesting setting, One Realm Beyond has delightful characters and at least one formidable adversary. Each is credible given the parameters of this story. Hence, the fact that the mor dragons can sit at the table with the humans or turn into boulders or trees at will, is plausible.

The story is also intriguing, and as Shannon McDermott noted, a tad darker than previous books by Donita Paul. There’s oppression to fight and a mass murder plot to thwart and missing loved ones to find. The story is filled with conflict which tests the mettle of the protagonists.

In spite of all these strong elements, I think the strongest might be the theme. Often Donita’s books, because they are of the gentler side of fantasy where violence is not as prevalent, are frequently referred to as fun. I’m sure I’ve used that word to describe them myself. And it’s appropriate for One Realm Beyond as well. However, people don’t often couple fun with thought-provoking, but I think that’s what we have in this novel.

All is not right in the very place that should be the seat of justice–the Realm Walkers Guild. Here, where the realm walkers are trained and where leaders of other realms turn for support against opponents of peace and harmony, where those pledged to serve Primen ought to be most faithful and true, there is corruption, plotting, power struggles, pride.

Primen is without apology an allegorical representation of God. He is supreme, he is held in highest esteem, he is served, and he is worshiped. In fact, he is the power behind the guild.

Consequently when the protagonists visit the Sanctuary, a gathering of people serving Primen, there’s a bit of a shock when the large facility only has a smattering of people seated in the pews.

Then there was this description of part of the ceremony:

The homily given by a man in elaborate robes said little other than to try to think good thoughts,. According to the speaker, this practice of thinking good thoughts would order the rest of your life. As if thinking about daises would eradicate sewer problems.

There’s the key, I think. The realm walkers and the guild are supposed to serve Primen, to protect the people, to put things to rights. But they aren’t doing their job. They aren’t speaking truth. And they’re falling away.

In short, I believe One Realm Beyond is a story about the church. I for one am interested in seeing where Donita takes her next book in the series.

Weaknesses. Every book has things a reader can pick at if they have a mind to. Was the pace too slow? Was Cantor likeable enough? Were the characters adequately motivated for each of their decisions? While these are valid things to discuss, many of like kind are in the eye of the beholder.

My hope is that those things don’t distract readers from taking this fun book seriously and thinking more deeply because of it.

Recommendation. I’m all in. Yes, this is a young adult book, but it’s dealing with subjects adults should care about just as much or more. I highly recommend One Realm Beyond and suggest readers get on board now, at the beginning of the Realm Walkers series.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Published in: on February 19, 2014 at 5:57 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 3  
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CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 2


onerealmbeyondcover

Favorite characters.

Donita Paul has written some of the best fun fantasy characters of all time, I think. This trend continues in her new novel One Realm Beyond, first in the Realm Walkers series.

In the past some of her minor characters have been quirky and interesting and unique. Sometimes they’re wise. Often their appearance belies their true status. They impact the story in unexpected ways.

Here are some of the memorable ones:
Lady Peg in Dragons of the Valley. Her distracted state and odd observations add enjoyable humor and wit.

Rigador in DragonFire and DragonLight. This last (or so we thought) of the meech dragons is fearsome, precocious, elegant, and strong. He commands the page as much as any room he might walk into.

Sir Dar, a doneel, makes an appearance in a number of books, but nearly upstaged the protagonist in DragonSpell. He is fastidious about his clothing, though his outfits might be considered somewhat garish, and he loves to prepare meals properly. He added a great deal of humor.

Leetu Bends, an eccentric hermit-like emeraldian, who is wise, mysterious, capable plays a key role in DragonQuest.

Toopka, the silly little doneel child who bonds with Rigador.

Wizard Fenworth is such a remarkable character, both in the DragonKeeper Chronicles but also in Dragons of Chiril series, with bog creatures nesting in his beard and his habit of becoming treelike to the point that it’s hard to tell him apart from the real thing.

And what about Gymn, the fainting minor dragon?

I wish I could remember them all.

But I reminisce about all these creative characters because I believe Donita Paul has done in her latest work, One Realm Beyond, what I’ve longed to see her do. Rather than making her quirky character a minor sideshow, she’s taken one of the best ever and brought her front and center.

I’m talking about Bixby, one of the point of view characters in this first installment of the Realm Walkers series. The story opens with Cantor, an eager pup of a boy who wants to get on with his destined role as a realm walker. But readers soon meet Bixby who then becomes a second point of view character. In the end, it’s clear she is as important as Cantor. Maybe more.

But what makes Bixby so special?

First, she’s unpredictable. I’d even say, surprising. She’s small and for all appearances, weak, but she can keep up with Cantor and even out-maneuver him at times. She has special abilities. So in some senses, she’s a bit of a superhero. She’s also wiser than Cantor, but she has secrets, and this makes her interesting, too.

Another quality that won me over to her is her courage. Despite her vulnerable size, she never backs away from a challenge, never tries for an easier assignment. She’s not foolhardy, but she’s not about to stand around and watch when lives are on the line. She’s compassionate and caring and willing to take a risk.

Along with everything else, she has the perfect dragon constant for her temperament. Totobee-Rodolow, with her love of bright and beautiful accessories, her love of shopping and fine dining, her connections and sophisticated manners, is the perfect fit for little Bixby.

Truly, this little mite of a girl—closer to a fairy, perhaps than any creature Donita has created before—is a star. I for one love to see such a strong character given the floor so she can have the spotlight shine on her all the longer.

Don’t forget to tour the other participants reviewing and commenting about One Realm Beyond. I might especially point you to Shannon McDemott‘s excellent review in which she says

It is such a fun book, such a light-hearted book, with entrancing characters and a terrific setting. I like fantasy, and I like sci-fi, and I hold a special fondness for well-done science fantasy – which is what One Realm Beyond is.

CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 1


dragon

Dragons

Look wise,
say nothing,
and eat
only those
who annoy you.

Read DragonKeeper Chronicles.

It wasn’t intentional; I truly wasn’t trying to dress the part I would be playing later in the day. In fact I didn’t really think about it until I began to work on my post for this month’s CSFF feature: One Realm Beyond, the first in the Realm Walkers series by Donita Paul. Nevertheless, the tee shirt I pulled out of my closet, a favorite, pictures this dragon and that saying.

Yes, I got it some years ago in connection with Donita Paul’s earlier books.

Appropriate, then, that One Realm Beyond also has dragons. Of sorts.

One of the most inventive parts of Ms. Paul’s writing, in my opinion, is her development of interesting, unique species. Her earlier books had a wide array of both good and evil species, large and small. But on top of this assortment were various types of dragons as well–most good, some more intelligent than others, and one particular, rare species, the meech dragons, I believe, that were extraordinarily gifted.

In One Realm Beyond, the mor dragons reminded me a great deal of those meech dragons, only they’re a step up. Ms. Paul was not content to make the same dragon with a different name. She gave the mor dragons additional abilities. The most notable is their capacity to shapeshift.

We’re talking about an Odo from Deep Space Nine kind of ability to take the shape of objects or people or other animals.

These dragons also mingle with humans to the degree that they are seated together in fancy eating establishments, wear some clothing and/or accessories (at least the one who loves to shop does), and converse freely (though a dragon and his constant can also mind-speak).

I mentioned “inventive,” didn’t I?

In short, the dragons in the Realm Walker series are not your old school dragons.

I’ll have more to say about One Realm Beyond and post my review later in the tour, but for now you might want to check out what other participants are saying, including new members Mike Coville and Audrey Sauble.

Each check mark below links to a CSFF Tour article, so have some fun reading what others are talking about in connection to this book. Feel free to leave a comment and tell them Becky sent you. 😀

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville
Pauline Creeden
Carol Gehringer
Rebekah Gyger
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Donita K. Paul
Writer Rani
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Jill Williamson