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.

Fantasy Friday: In Lieu Of A Comment


Fantasy author Jonathan Rogers (The Charlatan’s Boy and other books about Feechie folk) includes a fun feature on his blog: Friday Audience Participation. Most weeks I don’t have a story to share, but this week, I do … in triplicate, times ten.

But alas! My computer has an ongoing argument with Jonathan’s comment system. Some days they make peace, and I can enter into discussions on his site, but I never know what state of cooperation (or lack thereof) I’ll find.

Today’s topic … I just couldn’t resist. Try as I might, however, I could not get past Please wait. Sorta felt for a while like I was on hold with the automated answering system from Darth Vader’s Evil Empire or some such dastardly place.

In the end, I decided to bring my answer here (it certainly is long enough to be a post). So first, Jonathan’s Audience Participation topic for today:

Tell us your anecdotes about wild mammals you have known, from field mice to possums to bears. Armadillos, by the way, are mammals. A surprising number of people think armadillos are a kind of reptile, but they are as mammalian as you are and are therefore eligible for this APF. Dolphins and whales, I don’t have to remind you, are also mammals.

And my answer which never had a chance (sort of like having a manuscript rejected by an agent without being read 😆 ):

Without a doubt, my parents both had Feechie blood in them. Consequently, I have more mammal stories to tell than all the rest of the visitors [there] at Jonathan-Rogers.com put together. Do you want to hear about the time my dad almost lost an arm to a mother bear because he was feeding her cubs? Or the time my mom woke me up to see the bear peering into the window of our cabin — the two-room structure with both doors wide open?

Instead, lets go with this one — not quite as dramatic, but probably more unusual.

When I was a teen, my parents decided to relocate from Southern California to East Africa. Yep. Half way around the world. In the fall of that year we headed off for a vacation which took us to the base of Kilimanjaro, then onto the plains of the Serengeti.

Lions we saw and zebra, wildebeest, Thompson gazelles, impala, giraffe, and water buffalo. But the ones I won’t forget are … well, now I realize they aren’t mammals, so I can’t tell the rest of the story. Too bad. It puts my dad on the map as Feechie kin.

Ah, but wait, I can tell about this one. We took a safari into Ngorongoro Crater, with a Tanzanian guide driving a Land Rover. Certainly the folks there must have detected my parent’s Feechiness because they gave us a driver that fit right in.

We zipped down the walls of the crater and onto the floor where we enjoyed any number of mammal sightings and eventually drew within feet of a couple of lions feasting on a fresh kill.

But our driver had something special in mind. He headed toward a swampy (I told you — Feechie blood in that man) area where he pointed out the top most part of a hippopotamus — a bit of his head and some of his back (I have the picture).

Not satisfied (probably because we couldn’t get closer), our driver whipped the Land Rover around until he found a lone rhinoceros.

Instead of pulling up at a respectable distance so we could get our pictures, however, he gunned the engine and headed straight for the animal who lowered his horn at us and charged.

Our driver didn’t back off or steer clear, though. He came to a full stop and turned off the engine! Yep turned it off. Then told us to remain still. Me hanging out of the open roof of the Land Rover, camera in hand, staring down a 2000 pound rhino inches from the hood of the Land Rover.

Later our driver explained: rhinos have poor eyesight, but they make up for it with their hearing.

How long did we sit there in a stare down with an angry rhinoceros? It seemed like hours (though it was probably more like ten minutes). That old gray bull wasn’t in a charitable mood. He wanted to spear something!

We did get some pictures though, but I think the other visitors cranking their cameras got better footage than we did. After all, we stayed very still for most of the encounter!

Writing Lone Wolves Or Inkling-like Writing Communities


At one of my first Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, I asked a particular writer I respected if that person was in a critique group. “No,” came the answer, “I really don’t have the time.”

On another occasion, because I had learned and grown so much through the on-line critique group I belonged to, I challenged an editing client to get involved with a group so that person could receive feedback other than mine. Again, the answer was, “I’d like to, but it just isn’t practical with my schedule.”

As I peruse recent fiction releases, I find it interesting to read the acknowledgments page. Some writers thank everyone from the teacher who taught them to read to their current editing team and every writing group they’ve belonged to in between.

Others include no acknowledgments page.

I think of these latter writers, like those who admit they aren’t part of a critique group, as writing lone wolves. They have minimal web presence, don’t show up in writing communities or at writing conferences, either as teachers or conferees. They may still sell books, though, and may be skilled writers.

The other group seems eager to engage fellow writers and industry professionals. They want to swap “how to” information, exchange prayer requests, answer questions, cheer even small victories, and offer that analytic eye that tells an author if he’s on the right track or not.

Is there a right way or a wrong way to go about this writing business?

I’m thinking about this for several reasons. First, years ago when I heard of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Oxford group of writers that came to be known as the Inklings, I wanted the same thing. How great to sit around a pub, reading your work and getting feedback from some of the great minds of your era. It sounded so magical. How could they miss becoming great writers in that environment?

More recently, however, two very different sources have me thinking about the subject again. One came via Fred Warren’s Spec Faith article “Scouting The Competition.” In that post Fred discusses what Mormon writers are doing that has vaulted many of them into the ranks of published science fiction or fantasy writers.

As required reading for anyone who wanted to comment, Fred linked to “The Class That Would Not Die,” an article that gives the history of a movement started at BYU that brought a number of Mormon sci fi and fantasy writers into community.

A couple days later, in response to articles by Jeffrey Overstreet and Jonathan Rogers, Sally Apokedak wrote an excellent post about self-promotion versus loving your neighbor.

Obviously self-promoters are still in community (they have to have someone to whom they are promoting), so they wouldn’t exactly fall into the lone wolf category. Or would they?

Some lone wolves, it would seem, are predatory. They are more interested in their work, their progress, their successes, with little interest in “giving back.” They begin most comments, “In my article (book, blog post, interview, podcast, trailer, tour, book blurb, Tweet, etc.) …”

Other lone wolves really are alone. They resemble writers of old, tucked away in a patron’s loft, where they worked day and night to eke out subsistence wages. And they like it that way — except for the subsistence wages part.

Some of these writers take the stand that they are artists, not promoters. Others believe God has called them to write books not Facebook updates.

On the other side of the planet there is the gregarious bunch — those who have to force themselves away from social media to get back to the task at hand, because if truth comes out, they are perfectly happy talking about writing whether or not they ever publish a thing. These writers have no problem joining critique groups or writing associations. They love to attend conferences and join in writing discussions with frequency.

As I look at this, I see admirable qualities in the lone wolf who sticks by conviction and works with diligence despite minimal feedback. I also see wonderful qualities in those who freely give to other writers with no return expectations. They are generous with their time because they love helping. They are the ones who love their neighbor without thinking they have come upon a good promotional strategy.

But then there are those predatory wolves — not so admirable. Sometimes they don’t operate alone, either; they work in packs. Which makes me realize gregarious writers are just as susceptible to becoming one of them as the lone wolf is.

Honestly, the writing life seems filled with traps. I see only one way through:

Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God (Phil. 4:6).

Who Owns Fiction?


Last December in a blog post I wrote for the CSFF Blog Tour of The Charlatan’s Boy, in which I discussed belief and unbelief, author Jonathan Rogers became somewhat exercised over the thought that I was comparing his fantasy folk known as Feechie with angels.

Here’s his comment:

Well, Becky, when you put a book out there, it’s out there, and you can’t control what happens to it. As Sally Apokedak has told me, it belongs to everybody. I would have never drawn the connection between feechiefolks and angels. But the feechies belong to anybody who will read about them, I reckon. Thanks for giving them lots of thought.

In response, Sally Apokedak explained that Jonathan’s comment was spurred by a Facebook discussion that ended with differing opinions about who “owned” the character.

Here’s part of what Sally said in that exchange:

I say Grady [the protagonist in The Charlatan’s Boy] belongs to me. 🙂 You are not allowed to keep ownership of him. When I read a book the characters become my friends and I have very strong feelings about them. Once Grady’s published he is out in the world and you can’t coddle him and keep him as your little pet boy any more. He’s out there interacting with the readers. You gave birth to him, but he keeps growing after he leaves you.

I’ll admit, I dismissed the discussion because I though Jonathan had misunderstood my post(!) but I was more inclined to agree with Sally than Jonathan.

No actual pictures of feechie exist but here's one of Feechie Swamp Stew compliments of Donita K. Paul

And yet, I most certainly didn’t want Jonathan thinking I was comparing his fantasy feechies to angels. I knew better and didn’t like the idea that he thought otherwise based on my article.

Last Friday over at Spec Faith, the subject again cropped up, and suddenly I saw things in a different light. One of the visitors there claimed that guest novelist Kathy Tyers’ work Firebird was racist. He went on to say that Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was racist, that, in both cases, the authors may not have intended to write a racist work, but they did anyway.

In other words, he took the extreme position that a writer’s intention did not matter at all. Rather there is some standard apart from what the author thinks he is saying against which the reader can measure a work and determine what he actually said. And that standard? Apparently whatever the reader “got out of it.”

Suddenly I was not so firmly on the side of the reader, so I countered with a post of my own at Spec Faith. As I wrote my thoughts and realized that the attitude we have toward reading plays a huge part in how we understand Scripture, I thought this topic was important enough to revisit here.

The key issues, I believe, are these:

    1. Novelists, like any other writer, are communicating something.
    2. Readers are responsible to discern what it is the novelist is saying.
    3. Stories affect readers on an emotional level as well as an intellectual level.
    4. Readers come to stories with their own set of experiences and their own worldview.
    5. Consequently, a reader may interact with a story and come away, having been touched, having learned and grown in ways that the novelist never dreamed.

Using The Charlatan’s Boy as an example again, in my reading, I saw parallels between the disbelief of the “civilizers” about the very real feechie and the disbelief of today’s rational thinkers about the very real world of the supernatural.

Was this a point Jonathan intended to communicate? From his comment, it seems clear he did not. Could that parallel legitimately be made, however? I think definitely yes, in part because of two things. One has to do with what I as the reader was experiencing — much having to do with false teaching and the effects on our culture. The second has to do with the actual content. Nothing I saw in the story violated what Jonathan wrote.

Now if I claimed, as he apparently thought I was, that the feechie were allegorical representations of or symbols for angels, I believe I would have violated his work. To reach that conclusion, I would have had to force the feechie into the Biblical parameters for angels.

Quite frankly, they simply do not fit and my saying so wouldn’t make it so. In addition, I would be contradicting the author’s intent. Not just going beyond his intent, or drawing ideas out of what he intended. My ideas would have contradicted his intent.

So who owns fiction? I believe the writer does. But if he writes about important things, the reader may interact with the story in such a way that he thinks thoughts far beyond what the author envisioned. And that’s a very good thing.

Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Stereotype That Keeps On Slamming Doors


Over and over I hear or see statements like, I don’t read Christian fiction because it is so ___. Fill in the blank — preachy, poorly written, predictable, unrealistic, sanitized.

I’m not going to pretend that all Christian fiction is well-crafted, with deep spiritual themes that demand real thinking while telling a captivating story.

But I think it’s fair to ask those who make negative declarations, especially categorical ones, about Christian fiction, What have you read lately?

Author friend Mike Duran began a discussion today on his site Decompose that has generated a number of slam-the-door-on-Christian-fiction comments. So I decided to provide short excerpts of a few of my favorite novels — YA or adult, mostly speculative, but not all — which fall under the Christian fiction umbrella, as evidence that readers would do well to prop the door open.

We must counter ignorance with facts, I think, or the same negative lines get repeated over and over. That’s a sure way of chasing off potential readers! After all, why should a reader pick up a Christian novel if a bunch of insiders agree Christian fiction is bad?

Here is a smattering of evidence that such a conclusion is faulty (links are to longer excerpts so you can read more if you wish):

The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers — a YA fantasy stand-alone

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass.

I’ve run across folks claim they know everything about their birthday—where it happened, who they was with, what day it was. But if you really press them on it, turns out they don’t remember no more about it than I do. They only know what somebody told them.

I don’t care who you are—when it comes to knowing where you come from, you got to take somebody else’s word for it. That’s where things has always got ticklish for me. I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.

Vanish by Tom Pawlick — first in a series of adult supernatural suspense

It all began with a feeling. Just an eerie feeling.

Conner Hayden peered out his office window at the hazy downtown Chicago vista. Heat plumes radiated from tar-covered rooftops baking in the midafternoon sun. A late-summer heat wave had every AC unit in the city running at full capacity.

He narrowed his eyes. Every unit except the one on the building across the street. On that roof, a lone maintenance worker in blue coveralls crouched beside the bulky air conditioner with his toolbox open beside him.

Conner watched the man toil in the oppressive August heat. Something hadn’t felt right all day. Despite the relative seclusion of his thirty-ninth-floor office, Conner couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.

It had begun early that morning when he stopped for gas. He could have sworn the guy at the next pump was staring at him. Conner saw his face for only an instant. But it looked strange somehow — dark, as if shrouded by a passing shadow. And his eyes . . .

For a moment, his eyes looked completely white.

Then the shadow passed and the guy turned away.

On The Edge Of The Dark Sea Of Darkness, Book One of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson — Middle Grade/YA fantasy

Just outside the town of Glipwood, perched near the edge of the cliffs above the Dark Sea sat a little cottage where lived the Igiby family. The cottage was rather plain, except for how comfortable it was, and how nicely it had been built, and how neatly it was kept in spite of the three children who lived there, and except for the love that glowed from it like firelight from its windows at night.

As for the Igiby family? Well, except for the way they always sat late into the night beside the hearth telling stories, and when they sang in the garden while they gathered the harvest, and when the grandfather, Podo Helmer, sat on the porch blowing smoke rings, and except for all the good, warm things that filled their days there like cider in a mug on a winter night, they were quite miserable. Quite miserable indeed, in that land where walked the Fangs of Dang.

Back On Murder by J. Mark Bertrand — first in the Roland March Mystery series, adult mystery

I’m on the way out. They can all tell, which is why the crime scene technicians hardly acknowledge my presence, and my own colleagues do a double take whenever I speak. Like they’re surprised to find me still here.

But I am here, staring down into the waxy face of a man who, with a change of wardrobe, could pass for a martyred saint.

It’s all in the eyes. Rolling heavenward in agony, brows arched in acute pain. A pencil mustache clinging to the vaulted upper lip, blood seeping through the cracks between the teeth. The ink on his biceps. Blessed Virgins and barb-wired hearts and a haloed man with a cleft beard.

But instead of a volley of arrows or a vat of boiling oil, this one took a shotgun blast point-blank just under the rib cage, flaying his wife-beater and the chest cavity beneath. He fell backward onto the bed, arms out, bleeding out onto the dingy sheets.

Lorenz stands next to me, holding the victim’s wallet. He slips the license out and whistles. “Our boy here is Octavio Morales.”

He’s speaking to the room, not me personally, but I answer anyway. “The money guy?”

The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet — adult fantasy (this excerpt is from the Auralia Thread series summary leading up to this book)

THEY CALL THE BOY “RESCUE” FOR A REASON…

The ale boy was once an errand runner, almost invisible as he served House Abascar. As he grew up—an orphan raised by House Abascar’s beer brewer and winemaker—his real name remained a secret, even from him.

But what he did know proved useful indeed. As he gathered the harvest fruits beyond Abascar’s walls, worked with brewers below ground, delivered drinks across the city, and served the king his favorite liquor, the ale boy learned the shortcuts and secrets of that oppressed kingdom.

When the ale boy met Auralia, a mysterious and artistic young woman from the wilderness, they formed a friendship that would change the world. Auralia’s artistry shone with colors no one had ever seen, and when she revealed her masterpiece within House Abascar, the kingdom erupted in turmoil that ended in a calamitous collapse. Auralia vanished, as did her enchanting colors. And hundreds of people died.

Brokenhearted but brave, the ale boy sought out survivors in Abascar’s ruins and helped them find their way to a refuge in the Cliffs of Barnashum.There, led by their new king, Cal-raven, the people endured a harsh winter and an attack from the Cent Regus beastmen.

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs — YA fantasy

The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic.

Strange clouds overhead teased the senses with a fragrance of storm, wind, and lightning, and the faint, clean smell of ozone. Invisible energy sparkled like morning dew on blades of grass.

Standing alone in an empty field on the back end of their new acreage, Hadyn Barlow only saw the clouds. By definition, you can’t see what’s invisible, and as for smelling magic? Well, let’s just say, unlikely. Hadyn saw what was obvious for late November, rural Missouri: leafless trees, dead grass, winter coming on strong. Most of all he saw (and despised) the humongous briar patch in front of him, feeling anew each and every blister and callus earned hacking through its branches.

Blaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivka (maybe the best of them all) — adult fantasy

“On a post. In a pond.”

Delaney said the words aloud, not because anyone could hear him but because the words needed saying. He wished his small declaration could create a bit of sympathy from a crewmate, or a native, or even one of the cutthroats who had left him here. But he was alone.

It wasn’t the post to which he’d been abandoned that troubled him, though it was troubling enough. The post was worn and unsteady, about eight inches across at the top where his behind was perched, and it jutted eight feet or so up from the still water below him. His shins hugged its pocked and ragged sides; his feet were knotted at the ankles behind him for balance. Delaney was a sailor, and this was not much different than dock posts in port where he’d sat many times to take his lunch. He was young enough not to be troubled with a little pain in the backside, old enough to have felt his share of it. No, the post wasn’t the problem.

The pond from which the post jutted was not terribly troublesome either. It was a lagoon, really, less than a hundred yards across, no more than fifty yards to shore in any direction. He could swim that distance easily. He peered down through the water, past its smooth, still surface, and eyed the silver-green flash of scales, lit bright by the noonday sun.

The piranha, now, they were somewhat vexing.

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson — adult magic realism (sadly I can’t copy any of the excerpt of this one, so you’ll have to click on the link to get a flavor of the book.

Mind you, this sampling doesn’t include a single author of women’s fiction. In that genre I’d recommend Julie Carobini, Kathryn Cushman, Kathleen Popa, Sharon Souza, Debbie Thomas, and that’s right off the top of my head.

I’m just saying, good Christian fiction is available.

When readers listen to those who don’t (or who no longer) read the genre, they are insuring that publishers will not aim for a larger audience — because when they do, insiders will say, Those genres don’t sell. And they’ll be right because those not informed about the latest books and newest authors are telling potential readers how horrible Christian fiction is. Who wants to buy books when the buzz about them is so negative?

How about, let’s at least keep an open mind, so when someone like me or Tim George who reviews for Fiction Addict or any of the CSFF Tour bloggers gives a contrasting opinion to the “Christian fiction is bad” mantra, we might consider that it’s possible there are some worthwhile books published by Christian houses.

What Makes Fantasy Work, Continued


When I first posed the question, What makes fantasy work, my immediate thought was, an engaging character. That’s when I realized that there might not be so much difference between fantasy and other fiction.

In some of the fantasy I mentioned yesterday that I don’t think is working, I found two problems with the central character—either she/he was nondescript or whiny.

To make a character seem real, he must have a rounded personality. For fallen humanity, that means weaknesses and needs as well as strengths and things to offer others. At times, however, a character weakness can be painted with too much emphasis. I know because I created such a character.

It crushed me at first when members of my critique group told me they hated my main character. Hated him? I loved him. How could they misunderstand him so completely? Yes, he had problems, but don’t all characters? I mean, isn’t that part of the character arc?

That, in a nutshell, is the balancing act authors must achieve—give the character problems but not let him become embittered, sullen, whiny, complaining, slothful.

In some ways, Jonathan Rogers’ Grady in The Charlatan’s Boy is the perfect character. He’s got a problem—he’s an orphan, but that’s not all of it. The only person who knows anything about where he came from is unreliable—worse than unreliable. He twists the truth at will, however it suits him.

But instead of wallowing in self-pity, Grady makes the most of his circumstances. Here’s where the reader sees his real strengths. He’s loyal, hard working, and humble enough to play whatever part is given him.

So the first thing fantasy has to have in order to work is a main character that is believable and engaging.

The second thing, because this is fantasy I’m talking about, is a well-developed, consistent world. This is the aspect J. K. Rowling mastered. If I were to grade her, I might give her a C or C+ for her character. Harry wasn’t particularly believable in the first book because the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Dursleys was over the top. Nor was he particularly engaging. He didn’t whine but neither did he do anything to change his situation.

But the world Rowling created was unbelievable. Well, believably so. I mean, she did such a great job creating a magic place that the story came alive. She paid attention to detail and didn’t overlook anything.

In Hogwarts, food appeared magically on plates, the ceiling in the dining hall changed to appear like the outdoor sky, persons in portraits moved (and moved from their own frame to another’s), persons in newspaper photos moved too, and so did the figures on the cards that came with certain candy. And those chocolate frogs could actually jump away. The students had to be taught how to fly a boom and how to use their wands. And on and on and on. So many little details, everyday things twisted to fit a place where magic was real.

But there’s still more to this “What makes fantasy work” question, so I see I’m going to need another post on the topic. We’ll just say this continuation is to be continued. 😉

CSFF Tour Wrap – The Charlatan’s Boy


And so another excellent CSFF Blog Tour comes to an end, this one for Jonathan Rogers’ much-enjoyed young adult fantasy, The Charlatan’s Boy (WaterBrook Press). Sixty-three posts, thirty-four blogs, untold number of reviews, a handful of articles on the spiritual aspect of the book, two writing challenges and two discussions of real life charlatans, one look at phrenology! My, this tour uncovered some wonderful material.

Here are the participants who dived in and posted all three days. They are eligible for the December CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award, for which I need your help.

Published in: on December 9, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Charlatan’s Boy, Day 3


I’ve been chatting about the CSFF Blog Tour December feature, The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers (before I forget, if you’re on Facebook, consider sending Dr. Rogers a friend invite), for a number of days now. Or weeks.

Shortly after the book released Dr. Rogers did a guest post at Speculative Faith. Which got me to thinking, and I ended up featuring him in a post on my editing blog—Rewrite, Reword, Rework. About that same time, I used the opening of The Charlatan’s Boy as an example of … voice, I believe it was, in an online writing group of which I’m a member.

And then the tour. There have been such excellent posts, including Donita Paul‘s feechie imagination challenge and Sally Apokedak‘s look at the spiritual aspect of the book. I’ve been busy interacting with any number of bloggers, and enjoying it immensely.

Now it’s time for my review, and in some ways I feel like it’s all been said already, that you all would be best off if you took the tour as I did. And I hope you do. Take a half hour a night and read the posts (you can find the links at the end of Monday’s post). You’ll learn a lot about Jonathan Rogers, the man and the writer, and about his wonderful story. You’ll learn about how a work of fiction can stir deep spiritual thoughts without being conspicuous about it. And you’ll learn what makes so many of this diverse group of bloggers love an unpretentious book marketed for the young adult crowd.

What can I add? My opinion, I guess. (But remember, you get what you pay for. 😀 )

The Story. Grady is an orphan, under the care of a flimflam man named Floyd. Together they travel throughout the island of Corenwald primarily selling as truth a pack of lies. The greatest of these is that Floyd is a feechie expert and Grady is a full grown feechie he’s captured.

Grady is attached to Floyd simply because he’s all the boy has. Floyd, on the other hand, treats Grady mostly like a hired hand, refusing to tell him who he is or where he came from. When interest in the feechie act dries up, the charlatan and his boy try a variety of other routines, none particularly successful.

One day Floyd gets an idea how to revive interest in feechies. Grady happily complies, and their scheme works—up to a point. Instead of giving Grady what he thought he wanted, the outcome of their plot shakes up his world for good.

Strengths. The Charlatan’s Boy is inventive. Words like “civilizer,” “angrified,” and “robustious,” and accompanying unique grammar constructions join with an imaginative world and people to make this story feel like something you’ve never read before.

The novel has a bit of the flavor of Paul Bunyan stories, whoppers told as real events, but there’s a hint of Prydain, too, or maybe Narnia.

At any rate, the book is a wonderful blend, one Sally Apokedak has called Frontier Fantasy. It’s the perfect term, I think.

The characters are every bit as strong as the inventiveness. Grady is lovable, sadly so because he wants so much to fit somewhere in the world he knows, but Floyd holds him at arms distance, at best. More than anything, I wanted to keep reading because I wanted to know what would happen to Grady next and in particular if he would ever find what he needed.

The story is really an exploration of the human heart, so there is a lot of universal truth between the covers—about truth and lies, belonging and love. Without a doubt, Dr. Rogers’ look at these timeless issues is from a Christian perspective, so it lends itself to Christian interpretation, whether intentional or not.

Weaknesses. No, I don’t think it’s a perfect book, but it’s well on the way. 😉 First, I thought a few chapters wandered about a bit. Some reviewers termed the story “episodic” and it was to an extent in the early part. Once Floyd and Grady settled on a scheme to revive their feechie act, the plot coalesced nicely and the pace picked up.

As much depth as a number of bloggers have found in the book, I can’t help wondering if the gold they uncovered isn’t partly a result of their writing about the story. In other words, I think if the truth that many uncovered had been woven throughout the story intentionally, it would have been that much stronger.

Will the average reader notice either of these areas? Probably not. I think they will more than likely be as delighted by the book as I was.

Recommendation. A must read for fantasy lovers. A must read for those looking for a read-aloud book. A must read for those who want to discover quality literature. A must read for those who want a fun yet touching story about an engaging character.

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

Published in: on December 8, 2010 at 5:44 pm  Comments (6)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Charlatan’s Boy, Day 2


The CSFF crew is an eclectic bunch. We are writers and moms, businessmen and seminary students. Some prefer science fiction, others fantasy. Our ages span generations, from teens to grandparents, and our inclinations vary from middle grade novels to young adult and adult. Some of us look for strong Christian themes in our stories. Others look primarily for good stories.

Because we’re so diverse, I find CSFF tours fascinating. Nearly every post has something thought-provoking to say, but more often than not, various ones of us see something in the featured book less to our liking whereas others find it altogether enjoyable.

We’re currently focusing on The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers (WaterBrook), and I have to say, I have read some of the most delightful posts.

Sarah Sawyer explored some of the famous charlatans in order to give the story some background. Sally Apokedak considered the ways in which the story is both like and different from C. S. Lewis and Mark Twain—the two authors endorser Andrew Peterson compared Dr. Rogers to.

Perhaps one of the best posts is Beckie Burnham‘s interview with Dr. Rogers’ sister Melanie, giving us insights into the author we won’t find anywhere else on the web. But we also can enjoy an interview with the author himself over at Julie’s Own Little Corner of the World.

One of the funniest posts Dr. Rogers generated himself by issuing CSFF member Fred Warren a challenge. The results are side-splitting in places.

Others wrote reviews, a number have linked to the hilarious Feechie Film Festival, as I did at Speculative Faith in my look at how J. R. R. Tolkien’s creation of hobbits has similarities to Jonathan Rogers’ creation of feechies.

But here’s the thing. So far—and we still have more than a day to go in the tour—I haven’t read a single “I didn’t like it” post. There might be some coming, mind you. We are an eclectic bunch, as I said, and I wouldn’t be surprised or even disappointed. In fact, the diversity of opinion, I believe, gives CSFF credibility. We really aren’t spouting a party line. No one tells us what we should think about a book. We give our genuine opinion.

So if a diverse group of readers comes together and genuinely praises a book and a writer—not that we’re there yet—what does that tell you?

I reach two conclusions. It is possible for a writer to do such a good job he/she captures readers from all strata (I think that’s called “breaking out”). And secondly, this writer is capable of doing just that.

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Charlatan’s Boy, Day 1, Are Feechies Real?


The December feature of the CSFF Blog Tour is The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers (WaterBrook). While this story is a young adult fantasy standalone, it takes place in the same world created by Rogers in his Wilderking Trilogy—the island of Corenwald.

Consequently, the idea that feechies exist has been developed in the earlier books. Now, in this later story, the people of Corenwald have begun to doubt that feechies are real.

Interestingly, I found parallels with our contemporary world in which a good portion of society has come to believe that angels and demons and God Himself are myth.

Coupled with the disbelieving public in The Charlatan’s Boy is the group of con artists who wish to capitalize on their doubt. One of the main characters touts himself as a “feechie expert,” and makes money showing a “real feechie” while he gives a lecture on their habits. His credentials? He claims to have lived among the feechies for two years.

I find that approach eerily similar to false teachers today who claim to have special knowledge about God or angels or the spirit world because of some experience they had.

Ironically, the more these false teachers “testify,” the more the populace at large doubts.

And so it was in The Charlatan’s Boy. After some time, traveling from place to place, delivering lectures as a feechie expert, the charlatan decides he needs a new gig because the people no longer believe in feechies.

But what if feechies are real and they have chosen to stay away from the public? What if they see civilizers as hostile to their way of life, to their very existence? What if they stay hidden because they don’t want to be put on display and paraded around as some bit of entertainment, some magic show? What if they don’t want to be forced to become something they are not?

I can’t help but wonder if the absence of angelic activity in our western civilization might not stem from similar reasons. Might not the lifestyle of contemporary America be hostile to the message and ministry of angels? If we could “capture” an angel, I have to think that a good number of people would be working feverishly on the “problem” of how to maximize their return. What movies would we make? What ancillary products would be developed? What imitation stories would crop up? What “experts” would take center stage to tell all they know?

But would such activity increase our belief? Or would we see fraud at every level and conclude that the existence of spirits is a hoax?

I can’t help but think the latter might have already happened.

For the rest of the CSFF Blog Tour, look for content centered more specifically on our feature, The Charlatan’s Boy. For today, learn more about it by visiting other tour participants:

Each check mark links to a blog tour post.

Published in: on December 6, 2010 at 1:33 pm  Comments (10)  
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