An Influential Character


cover_Prince CaspianThis blog post is my response to a writing prompt posted in the Facebook group Fantasy Writers and Readers. Please leave a comment or contact me at my Yahoo account for an invite if you are an avid fantasy writer and/or reader and would like to participate in this closed Facebook group.

So the question: what character, as in fictitious person from a story, influenced you either now or in childhood or throughout your life?

That’s a head-scratcher.

When I was a kid, the characters I loved were Mr. Toad and his wild ride, Brer Rabbit and his clever cockiness, the Little Engine That Could and his commitment, drive, and determination. What persistence, that little engine!

Later, I loved the secret heroes—Zorro most of all, but Robin Hood too, the Long Ranger, and Superman. They were not about taking bows or doing good deeds for show. They wanted to right injustice, to help the poor and needy and protect the weak and helpless. Oh my what lofty goals! How do you do such things if you a) don’t have super powers or b) don’t have endless resources or c) aren’t planning to begin a criminal lifestyle?

Another character I loved was Alec Ramsey, protagonist in The Black Stallion by Walter Farley because he knew how to tame a wild horse and endear himself to the animal, for life. In many ways he was the kid version of my other heroes, only he turned his protective instincts toward a horse.

But who has actually influenced me? I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles Of Narnia. In book two Prince Caspian, Lucy and a small entourage are trying to reach what had been their castle, but years and years have passed in Narnia and Things Are Different. The animals no longer talk and a great wood has grown up. Evil men are in control.

At one point Lucy sees Aslan, the High King of Narnia. He beckons her to follow, but she doesn’t. As a result, they take a very long road and almost fall into enemy hands. They have to backtrack and lose a day when time is of the essence.

Again Lucy sees Aslan, even talks with him. In their conversation, it’s clear he wants her to follow him even if the others can’t see him and even if they don’t come along. It’s a critical point—she must act on what she believes, or not.

That was a changing point in my life, too. Lucy had the courage of her convictions, and she challenged me to live the same way. So of all the great protagonists in all the great stories, I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie has influenced me most.

Christy Award Finalists


ReadingThe Christy Award finalists were announced today. I know that awards like this can easily leave out some of the best books—they might be independently published or the publisher chose not to invest in submitting a particular novel. All kinds of reasons.

Still, there’s no doubt these books deserve to go on a list of novels readers should consider buying. I mean, first an agent chose to represent the author, then an acquisitions editor took the manuscript to the publishing board, they decided to publish it, a substantive and a copy editor each worked with the author on it, then Christy judges chose it to be included with the other finalists. That’s a lot of people in the writing profession who believed in these books.

So why not consider adding them to your to be read list? I mean, this is the end of April, which means May is just around the corner. And we all know what follows May: SUMMER!!

You need good books during the summer to take with you on that vacation or to read when all your friends are away on vacation.

With all that in mind, here is the list of finalists:

CONTEMPORARY

Farewell, Four Waters by Kate McCord (RiverNorth, an imprint of Moody Publishing)
Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate (Tyndale House Publishers)

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert (WaterBrook Multnomah)
Firewall by DiAnn Mills (Tyndale House Publishers)
Undetected by Dee Henderson (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

CONTEMPORARY SERIES

The Amish Blacksmith by Mindy Starns Clark and Susan Meissner (Harvest House Publishers)
Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney (Abingdon Press)
When I Fall in Love by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House Publishers)

FIRST NOVEL

Feast for Thieves by Marcus Brotherton (RiverNorth, an imprint of Moody Publishing)
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
House of Living Stones by Kate Schuermann (Concordia Publishing House)

HISTORICAL

The Advocate by Randy Singer (Tyndale House Publishers)
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking)
The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot (Tyndale House Publishers)

HISTORICAL ROMANCE

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer (WaterBook Multnomah)
With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

SUSPENSE

The Color of Justice by Ace Collins (Abingdon Press)
A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks (Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins Christian Publishing)
Sky Zone by Creston Mapes (David C Cook)

VISIONARY [Also known as speculative fiction: fantasy, science fiction, fairy tale, futuristic, etc.]

Once Beyond a Time by Ann Tatlock (Heritage Beacon Fiction)
Shadow Hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes (Enclave Publishing)

YOUNG ADULT

Failstate: Nemesis by John W. Otte (Enclave Publishing)
This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof (Independently Published)
Storm Siren by Mary Weber (Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins Christian Publishing)

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Review – The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue


The Color Of Grief Isn't Blue coverI’m embarrassed. I planned to post a review of Sharon Souza’s novel The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue on Amazon and figured the easiest way was to copy my review from my own site. But when I did a search for the book, I couldn’t find it. I looked through the Reviews category, searched for the book by title, searched by Sharon’s name. I was so sure I’d written a review. But no. As it turned out, I’d written an endorsement, not a review.

YIKES! I must have had a senior moment. How embarrassing!

Well, I thought I needed to remedy the matter at once. I wrote a short review on Amazon and now will give a more complete analysis here. First, this is the endorsement I wrote. I’m not experienced writing these so I don’t know how much of it was worth quoting. But this reflects my thoughts shortly after I finished reading the book:

The Color of Sorrow Isn’t Blue by Sharon K. Souza is a powerful story, real and raw. Souza’s writing is beautiful, but it is also true. I don’t know of a novel that does a better job showing the depth of grief and the nearly insurmountable job of climbing out of the pit it creates. There are no pat answers in this story—only the reality of friendship and a gradual realization of God’s constancy. This book will touch the heart of anyone who has experienced the pain of loss and show that doubting and despair don’t have to be the end game.

Interestingly, my review on Amazon was quite different. I no longer see the book as something that will touch the heart of people who know the pain of loss. Now I understand more clearly, we all know the pain of loss to one degree or another. Consequently, this book is for everyone. So, without further ado. . .

The Story.

Bristol Taylor’s daughter is gone. Disappeared. In a moment of seeming safety, a simple, understandable choice opened the door to the unknown, and Bristol has suffered the pain and regret and guilt ever since.

A year later she can’t face the inevitable media regurgitation of those painful days and weeks and months and wants to escape. She plans to head off to her stepmother’s “beach house”—a twenty-foot trailer situated not far from the beach.

To her surprise her sister, best friend, and stepmother refuse to let her face the anniversary alone. Instead the weekend turns out to be anything but the escape Bristol had planned.

Strengths.

First, I suppose people might call this book a “character driven” novel. I mean there’s no dramatic car-chase scene, no passionate romance, no cops chasing down clues. Instead, the horror has already happened and this is a book about dealing. How do you go on when the worst has happened, or might have. In reality, there’s this thread of the unknown which adds uncertainty to Bristol’s loss and robs her of closure while draining her of hope.

It’s also a book about relationships—Bristol and her husband, Bristol and the three women who determine to see her through another day of crisis, Bristol and God. So, yes, you’d have to say character is front and center.

And yet . . . There is no lack of action and more importantly, no lack of tension. Bristol has a goal which she maintains throughout. She thinks she knows what she needs, but it’s clear fairly soon that she’s wrong. It’s not as clear whether or not she’ll turn from the course she’s determined to take. I mean, she’s determined!

So this story is not slow-paced. In actuality, it’s structured in a unique way, with what happened before liberally interspersed with what’s happening now. In some ways it’s a little like changing points of view.

In one section the story is the remembrance of a busy, happy, proud mother about life with her loving husband and their beautiful daughter. Then the story swings back to the present where husband and wife are nearly estranged and their daughter is gone. Together these two narratives weave the entire story together until the reader understands on a visceral level what Bristol has lost and why.

Besides telling a terrific story, Sharon has done so using beautiful prose. Bristol is an artist and she sees life as an artist does. Sharon has captured that aspect of her protagonist without slowing the story for long descriptive paragraphs. Rather, Bristol’s artistic nature colors her voice.

Weaknesses.

I don’t have much here. For a very short stretch, I wasn’t sure I liked Bristol. She had my sympathy right away, but it was clear something wasn’t right between her and her husband. It was early in the story and I didn’t have a clue why she seemed to be pushing him away. I knew that was the wrong thing for her to do, but I didn’t know her enough to be in her corner hoping she’d realize her folly.

As it turned out, the story went far deeper than I expected, very quickly. Why she acted the way she did became clear and it added one more thing Bristol had to work through—if she could. By the end, my heart was breaking for Bristol.

But that early reaction . . . well, I remember it months after reading the novel. In fact, I remember the entire story almost as if I finished it yesterday. That’s how powerful it affected me.

So, no, I can’t do a good job balancing my review with what could have made it better. I mean, I generally like a fairly straightforward, chronological telling, but I wouldn’t change a thing in the way Sharon chose to tell this story, the past and present threads woven together in such a way that the unique structure actually became a strength.

OK, here’s one. I didn’t ever quite have the setting clear in my mind—where was this trailer in relation to other structures and how close was it actually to the beach? I remember wondering in a place or two, but actually those could have been in the story and I missed them because I was focused on something else. Ultimately the logistics didn’t confuse me or disrupt the story.

That’s all the “weaknesses” I’ve got.

Recommendation.

I can only say, The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue is a memorable book, a powerful story, completely void of preachiness or easy answers or platitudes. It’s honest and the questioning touches your soul. Because sorrow is such a universal experience, I’m tempted to say, this book is a must read for everyone. But I know women will like it more than men. It’s really a woman’s book because it tells the story of the mother, of the wife. Guys could gain a lot. I just don’t know how much they’d understand. Oh, not intellectually. They could understand the words, but I don’t know if they’d understand the emotion. I mean, a big part of the story has to do with a wife submitting to her husband. Guys should read it, but I don’t know if they can get it. But there it is. A must read for women who enjoy good literature.

If It’s Friday, It’s Time For Fantasy


GoldenDaughtercoverI haven’t discussed fiction much of late, at least not here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, though I still post about fiction in general at my editing site and about Christian speculative fiction every Monday at Speculative Faith. It feels like it’s time to get back to my blogging roots for a day. 😉

When I first started blogging, Christian fantasy was almost an anomaly. Only a handful of writers were putting out true fantasy with Christian underpinnings. Donita Paul and Bryan Davis burst on the scene to join Stephen Lawhead and Karen Hancock, but back in those days fantasy primarily meant stories written in a medieval-type setting that included the equivalent of magic.

However, as the fantasy genre expanded in the general market to include urban fantasy, dystopian fantasy, fairytale fantasy, and more, the stories Christians wrote also ventured away from the classic form.

In addition, new authors have emerged—Jill Williamson, Andrew Peterson, Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Patrick Carr, R. J. Larson, John Otte and more recently Nadine Brandes, Ashlee Willis, and Mary Weber.

Over this time, publishing has changed, too. More and more small presses featuring Christian speculative fiction have come into being. First was Marcher Lord Press founded by the visionary Jeff Gerke. But others soon followed: Splashdown Books, AltWit Press, Castle Gate Press, and others.

This past year Jeff Gerke sold MLP to agent Steve Laube. The house now operates as Enclave Publishing and has just hired a director of sales and marketing. One of the goals for Enclave is to get their books into bookstores, something that can only enhance their visibility, even as the digital market expands.

Publishers with a long standing “no fantasy” policy have broken from their mold and are now joining the ranks of others with a growing group of fantasy authors.

By fantasy, of course, I mean this broader, more encompassing genre, which fans of Lord of the Rings might not recognize. Is this a good thing?

I absolutely think it’s a great thing. All types of fantasy stir the imagination. Dystopian or post-apocalyptic fantasy or science fantasy may not tell stories about sword-wielding, dragon-fighting heroes, but they still create a different world and show a struggle between good and evil. This latter, after all, is the single most important fantasy trope.

Interestingly, the once familiar good or evil fantasy creatures have been turned on their heads. Hence dragons may be good, and in the case of Donita Paul’s minor dragons in her DragonKeeper Chronicles, even cute and cuddly.

Still there remains an identifiable evil that characters must choose to fight. In Jill Williamson’s Safe Lands series, for instance, there was no one villain but a system readers can equate with the world system that finds solutions to life’s problems by escaping into entertainment and pleasure.

Despite this expansion of the genre, epic fantasy seems to retain its popularity, as evidenced by the great success of first time novelist Patrick Carr’s A Cast of Stones and the following two books of the Staff and Sword trilogy.

And I haven’t yet mentioned self-publishing. With the changes in digital publishing, a writer can now publish their book with ease. Finding a readership remains the great challenge, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more and more viable stories out there among the self-published.

One of the functions Speculative Faith plays is to catalog Christian speculative fiction in the Library. Any book written with an overt or symbolic or suggestive worldview pointing toward some aspect of Christianity—regardless of publisher—may be included in the database. It’s a great tool to use to find books that might fit the genre or audience age a person is looking for.

Other developments have also enhanced Christian speculative fiction, not just fantasy—specifically the Realm Makers Conference which is planning for its third year in 2015, and the Clive Staples Award which will be entering its fifth year of operation.

My hope, of course, is that readers are finding these great fantasy books. If publishers are to continue producing them, readers need to buy them.

I’m happy to report I bought a fantasy today—Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s soon to release Golden Daughter. How about you? What fantasy have you recently purchased or read?

The Place Of Truth In Fiction


Truth in FictionFiction as truth? Almost any novelist will tell you that truth is an important component in storytelling. The setting needs to be believably true, the characters need to be true to their personality and experience, and the story needs to be true to its setup and foreshadowing. And all of it needs to ring true with the reader.

Behind the curtain, though, is a story’s theme, and the truth of the theme seems to be at the heart of understanding the place of truth in fiction. According to R. L. Copple in a recent article at Speculative Faith, there are two primary views of truth in fiction:

One view is that fiction is a teaching tool.

In that understanding, Christian fiction’s primary goal and purpose is to relate Biblical truths (as interpreted by a specific community of faith) in a systematic and accurate fashion. Ultimately, it should convey the Gospel message. The fear is that if it doesn’t do so, it will teach people untruths and lead them away from God, not to Him. Thus, any deviation from their perception of Biblical truth is cause for alarm and condemnation.

The other view is that fiction conveys an emotional experience of Christian themes.

Unlike God, who is infallible, authors are not writing the Bible, nor a systematic theology, but a story about fallible characters who may believe the wrong things, misunderstand God, in short, sin. It is a story depicting theology lived out, and thus like real life, messy. Not every question gets answered. Not all resolutions are in tidy, neatly wrapped packages.

The purpose of this type of Christian fiction is to wrestle with Christian themes in an emotionally engaging manner. To help people encounter and incarnate the truth within themselves. The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.(Emphases in the original.)

“The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.” There’s some truth to this statement. In The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, for instance, the important details about Aslan dying on a stone table as a substitute for Edmund didn’t need to be true in the sense that a real lion talked and walked or sacrificed himself. Nor did the details have to match up with precision to that which the allegorical sacrifice depicted–Jesus Christ dying on a cross as the substitute for sinful humans.

However, there were details that did need to remain truthful if the story was to be true. The White Witch, for instance, couldn’t win the battle and become the new Aslan. Such an ending could well have been engaging, and there might even have been an engaging theme, perhaps even a truthful one, such as “Looks are deceiving” or “It’s better to obey those in authority than to rebel.”

Nevertheless, such themes do not mitigate the falsehood of evil winning out against good.

Does that mean, then, that fiction is supposed to teach? Well, sure! Fiction is supposed to teach the same way all of life teaches. For the Christian, this is mandated in Scripture:

You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 11:18-19)

And when you tell stories.

OK, the text doesn’t add he line about stories, but Jesus modeled the use of stories as a teaching device.

I honestly wonder what people mean when they question the idea that stories aren’t supposed to teach truth. It’s as if “teaching” has somehow become a suspect activity. We don’t want to indoctrinate our children or our readers or our colleagues or our friends.

Teaching is not indoctrination! In fact, the best teaching spurs the learner to think critically, to ask the hard questions, to dig for answers, to mull, cogitate, meditate, debate. The best stories, the truthful stories, ought to do that.

The problem isn’t that some stories teach truth and others let readers experience. Rather, it’s that some stories which teach truth do it badly. Of course, some stories that let readers experience, do that badly, too, because they aren’t truthful stories. The Shack had lots of people praising it because of what they experienced, but in the end, the story was filled with falsehood.

The place of truth in fiction? Right dab in the middle, as far as I’m concerned. Stories by Christians should be all about truth. But they ought to be artful in their expression of it, and yes, they should show truth instead of telling readers what is true.

Censorship


Censored_stampI’m being muzzled! Gagged! Restricted! Censored! And it’s all right. In fact, it’s appropriate and right that I am. I’ll let you think about that and see if you can figure out when and why it would be OK.

When I thought about the inability I have to blog about what I’d like to right now, I started thinking about the whole “censorship” charge. Yes, there are people who claim books are being censored in America.

The issue is most evident in school libraries. It seems the American Library Association’s response to parents’ concerns about the content of some books on school shelves is to cry “censorship.” In one instance a book was removed from a summer reading list, and therefore made its way onto the “banned books” list.

Odd. It seems the great complaint from the parents was that some subject matter wasn’t age-appropriate. But the ALA official responded with this comment:

“Young adult is a big trend right now, and a high number of complaints are directed at those books,” said Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association, which organises Banned Books Week. “There is a lot of pressure to keep teenagers safe and protected, especially in urban areas, and we are seeing many more complaints about alcohol, smoking, suicide and sexually explicit material.” (as quoted in “Book censors target teen fiction, says American Library Association,” emphasis added)

Imagine that! Wanting to keep kids safe! What are these parents thinking? Silly old adults! Why, don’t they know infants should be allowed to play with razor blades and toddlers allowed to play in the streets? Why goodness, such a provincial idea–keeping kids safe! Absolutely, such efforts need to be contended!

Silliness aside, I don’t think these ALA people and their supporters actually understand the concept of censorship. If a child can still buy a copy of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey or any of the other titles on their banned books list, if they can find those books at the public library, then nobody is censoring them.

By taking them off school summer reading lists, or even moving them to a library shelf that requires parental permission is in no way preventing children from reading the book. Rather it’s putting in safeguards for children who might not be ready for such material.

It’s the oddest thing–making rules based on those least in need of protection. Because one four-year-old child can swim, is it banning swimming to put gates around pools so that small children who can’t swim are prevented from inadvertently getting into the water?

In reality, it seems our society has put a premium on protecting kids physically while disregarding their mental and emotional and spiritual health.

Here in California, we regularly have public paid announcements against smoking. Yet this ALA official sees nothing wrong with letting kids read books that might influence them to smoke.

We have the same disconnect about sex. We let kids read about sex with some misguided idea that they won’t turn around and experiment.

Speaking of the book that was taken off the reading list for eleven-year-olds, Charlie Sheppard, editorial director of Andersen Press, the book’s UK publisher of the title in question said, “Some people felt it was unsuitable for 11-year-olds, but I would be happy to give it to my 11-year-old.” The book apparently focuses on alcohol, poverty and bullying, and includes references to masturbation and physical arousal.

Sorry, but I know a lot of eleven-year-olds who aren’t ready for a story like that. Why should they have to be exposed to things children ought not have to carry?

But beyond that point, the idea that removing the book from a required list is tantamount to banning it is ludicrous!

Perhaps if someone told the ALA they could no longer blog about banned books, they’d get a better understanding of what censorship actually means!

Published in: on March 4, 2014 at 7:55 pm  Comments (6)  
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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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Should We Forgive Authors?


working-man-131372-mWhen I was in high school, my church was a growing, vibrant congregation, due in large part to the dynamic preacher who occupied the pulpit. That is, until his wife ran off and had an affair. Not only did our pastor lose his marriage, he lost his ministry.

I wasn’t privilege to all events that transpired. Did he resign or was he forced out? I don’t know.

Not so many years afterward, one of the gifted teachers I’d been reading was discovered to be having an affair. He too lost his ministry, though I recall that he did repent of his sin. I don’t know what happened in his marriage.

Of course all of us are sinners, but some have a more public fall. Solomon would qualify for that category. He wrote some of the clearest warnings against sexual morality, addressing his words to his son. Many people memorize these words and turn to the passages to study in regard to the issue of sexual purity.

Except, Solomon was the man who had . . . what, 600 wives and 300 mistresses? But no adultery, apparently. Well, OK.

Of course, Solomon’s words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so there’s a greater reason to listen to what he had to say than that his life validated his words. Because it did not.

So I’m wondering, do we reserve our forgiveness for a writer’s wayward life just for those the Holy Spirit inspired? Or can we look at what others write and glean truth from their words though their life might not hold up to close scrutiny?

I mean, let’s face it. No one’s life holds up to close scrutiny. That’s why we need a Savior. But no author that I know of puts their most egregious sins in the bio that goes on the cover of their book. So what happens if readers learn of a life style or a proclivity or a habit with which they disagree?

Of course, most Christians don’t expect non-Christian writers to live according to Biblical standards. As such, there’s often a lot of filtering of material. Just today a friend who reads just about everything by a famous author said she brushes past certain scenes by certain characters. But otherwise the writing is so good.

Should readers take the same approach toward Christian authors?

I ask in part because notoriously Christian readers are harder on Christian authors. We want their lives to be godly and their stories to be theologically sound. And why shouldn’t we? I don’t think Christian novelists are so different from pastors or non-fiction writers.

Or are they? Because they command the attention of an audience, should they live in an intentionally different way since people are watching?

In reality, I think all Christians should live in an intentionally different way because people are watching. We should want them to watch because we should want them to see Jesus in us.

But what happens when a writer falls short? What happens when you learn your favorite novelist is a universalist or believes in sinless perfection? What happens when the evangelist you look up to takes Mormonism off the cult list?

How are readers to respond?

I think there are three ways that believers might commonly respond. Some will treat the books and authors exactly as they do non-Christian works and writers–enjoy them, but stay alert for what is false. Others will simply stop reading those books from that particular author. Others may or may not read the books, but they will pray that God will open the eyes of that author’s heart and that he might come to a position of repentance.

So here’s the thing. I’ve thought for . . . maybe my whole life, about how authors can influence readers. But now I’m seeing that, through prayer, readers can influence authors.

So guess which response is the one I’d recommend? 😉

Published in: on February 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 3


Outcasts cover

A Review

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring the young adult dystopian novel, Outcasts, second in The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson. Several of our tour participants have remarked about dystopian fiction and its predilection for gloom.

In my view, this genre is one of those that can show how the Christian worldview stands in stark contrast to that of a view that ignores God.

My introduction to the genre was Brave New World, followed soon after by 1984. I believe I came to understand the world better for having read those books, yet I wouldn’t want a steady diet of that kind of literature. It is, quite frankly, so hopeless, it’s depressing. Until a person realizes there are key components of truth left out.

Jill Williamson has not left those out. The picture she creates in her Safe Lands series, of a hedonistic society literally rotting away, could be depressing, but there’s more to the story. There are characters working to escape, bring down, and cure the corrupt society. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. Continuing the story begun in Captives, Outcasts features the three brothers from Glenrock–Levi, Mason, and Omar–as they deal with their present circumstances. They have rescued their women from the harem and now must do the same for their children who are either in the state boarding school or nursery.

Omar and Mason continue to live as nearly normal lives as possible while plotting with the people of Glenrock who live in hiding. Levi has taken up the mantle as elder and leader of his community, though he’s finding the role much more challenging than he could have imagined.

Who is he to trust? How can he get everyone on the same page, with Omar making his own superhero plans and constantly vapping and consorting with Safe Land women, even as Shaylinn is carrying his baby; with Mason bent on finding a cure for the disease the flakers carry. What hope does Levi have to reunite all his people and get them to safety?

Strengths. I’m not sure where to start. The characters are so strong in this book–with complex motives and heartfelt struggles, both internal and external. They are captivating, so much so that when I finished reading the book, I found myself planning to go back to the story in the evening, only to realize that I had to wait until the next book comes out. The point is, I wanted to know what happened to the characters I’d come to care about.

But just as strong is the worldbuilding. The Safe Lands have their own entertainment, society celebrities, fads and fashions, slang, cliched greeting, technology, political system, and state secrets. The place feels real!

Which brings me to the plot. So much is going on in this story. There is the overarching question–can the Glenrock citizens escape? But there are relational questions for various characters, too, and then there is the greater question about the Safe Lands and what they are hiding, what they are doing to their citizens, and who might be behind the whole thing. It’s intriguing on some level on every page.

More importantly, Outcasts and the other books in the series are addressing important issues, without preaching. Rather, the choices the characters make show all that a reader needs in order to discern what worldview addresses the pressing problems best.

Weaknesses. I have no serious complaints. I’m sold on this series and find myself lost in the world and engaged with the characters and the ideas presented in the story. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.

But there was one place where I felt the story could have been stronger. Without giving spoilers, it’s hard for me to discuss in detail. Suffice it to say, one character seemed to act in a surprising, if not uncharacteristic, way, with consequences that turned the story (and still must be dealt with in the next book). Perhaps a little more foreshadowing or a closer look at this character’s development would have made the story stronger at that point.

Recommendation. Outcasts and The Safe Lands series are must reads. Not just Christians can embrace this story because it is one of struggle between two distinct ways of life that anyone can understand and appreciate. It is also about how the gulf between the two can be bridged and how the leadership of the two sides can go astray. It’s a big story, a powerful story and shouldn’t be missed.

It’s also clearly targeting older teens, but adults can appreciate the story just as well. The third book in the series, Rebels, is due out in June, so I suggest you read Captives and Outcasts between now and them so you won’t be left out.

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

Books You’d Like To See In Print One Day


woman using computerMost writers beyond the beginning stage understand the value of feedback, especially informed feedback. That’s why they join critique groups and snag writing partners and look for beta readers.

Occasionally there are contests such as the one Spec Faith held some time ago in which writers could post their first 250 words and receive feedback from visitors. All these methods of receiving feedback are valuable, but what all writers crave is constructive criticism from an industry professional–a published author or better still, an agent or an editor.

Once upon a time there was a secret industry insider who called herself Miss Snark who gave selected writers a beatdown helpful insights about their work. She was pretty blunt and yet incredibly helpful.

When she hung up her snark hat, the writer who first received her biting assessment took up the mantle and began a site called Miss Snark’s First Victim. She’s expanded the purpose of the site to include contests that can put winners in touch with agents and editors.

Starting today she is running her 2013 Bakers Dozen Agent Auction. She held a submissions period during which she selected 60 entries, 35 YA or middle grade stories and 25 adult. For the next few days anyone can read the blurbs and openings of these stories and offer their critique, but two published authors and two agents or editors are guaranteed to critique. As many others as wish to join in may do so.

Then Tuesday, December 3 the actual auction begins. The cool thing is, the agents’ bids are the number of pages they would like to read, up to the entire manuscript (which is obviously the highest bid–and I’m assuming the first agent to make that bid “wins” that manuscript).

Anyway, I thought that would be a fun thing for readers to take part in. I’ve already looked over a handful of the entries and I’m impressed with the quality. One or two, I wish I could read more.

Here’s the link if you’d like to join in the fun: WELCOME TO THE 2013 BAKER’S DOZEN AGENT AUCTION! By the way, you might consider starting with the entry #1 which appears last since it seems most people start at the top with #60. And of course you get to pick and choose which you want to read and which, if any, you want to critique.

Just for fun, make note of the number of fantasy entries. It’s still the hottest genre going, it would seem. 😉

Published in: on November 29, 2013 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on Books You’d Like To See In Print One Day  
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