Revelation, The End Times, Eschatology

Book_of_Revelation-John on PatmosI’m currently reading in the book of Revelation which has one section that recorded letters to seven churches contemporary to the Apostle John and another section related to the coming and yet future judgment of the world (though a segment of Christians believe the judgments of Revelation were fulfilled in the first century).

As the popularity of the Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye would seem to indicate, a good number of people are fascinated by the latter subject, even those who don’t actually believe. You see this every time someone makes a prediction about when this judgment will take place. It’s like people can’t help but pay attention and wait for the approaching zero hour, then laugh a little (or a lot) when nothing happens.

Some people react almost as if they’ve cheated death. See, they seem to be saying, I can do whatever I want, and the world isn’t going to crumble around our heads. This judgment stuff is a crock.

Which is precisely what Peter warned about in his second letter:

in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3b-4)

Interestingly, Peter connects the end times judgment with the water judgment of old, saying that those who scoff at the coming wrath have missed the lesson of history:

For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. (vv 5-6)

All this relates to Revelation, to the end times, to eschatology (“the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” – Oxford American Dictionary) because God told Noah He would never again destroy the world with water, that judgment would next be delivered by fire.

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (v 7)

It is this coming judgment which both fascinates and frightens mankind.

Christians take seriously the admonition to be on the alert, to be ready. Many are looking for Christ’s return, not to reign but to take believers out of this world before the disastrous things John prophesied come to fruition.

Some are looking for the Antichrist—the one who will rule by Satan’s power and will make war against God’s people. They’re mindful of the “mark of the beast” which non-believers will accept and believers will avoid.

And many believe the end-time events will take place during a seven year period, though there’s debate about whether Christians will be on the earth during any, part, or all of the prophesied judgments.

Interestingly, Peter reminds his readers that God doesn’t reckon time the way we do:

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

In this light, I think it’s somewhat humorous that so many who study the Bible are certain about the seven years of tribulation. What if it’s seventy years or seven hundred years? Maybe we’ve been experiencing the tribulation for centuries. What if the first fourteen hundred years after Christ were the things Jesus said in Matthew 24: “merely the beginning of birth pangs”? Then come the end times—seven hundred years of them.

It’s rampant speculation on my part, but no more so than those who have the times all figured out, since they do not take into account that God can reckon time however He pleases. But the really significant point I think is why He didn’t immediately bring judgment on the world after Christ’s resurrection, why He continues to “delay”:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

It’s such an amazing truth—made more so by those who mock, saying He’s not coming back because He never came in the first place or never ascended to heaven; and by those who accuse God of not loving the people who are off somewhere out of earshot of the gospel.

These are the kinds of things we can expect in the end times—people listening to lies instead of God’s word. Truth is, He’s coming, but He hasn’t come yet in order to make provision for every single person who will come to repentance.

Amazing that the dark days of Revelation are as much a proof of God’s love for humankind as any bright day of blessing. He waits and warns and gives signs and prophecies. But in the end, some will refuse to acknowledge God even in the face of destruction. Perhaps the saddest couple of verses in Scripture say

Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory . . . and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.(Rev. 16:9, 11)

How many times have I heard atheists say something like, if that’s your loving God, I want nothing to do with him. It breaks my heart. Can they not see there is an eternal destiny at stake?

Years ago, before personal computers, tablets and cell phones, children had activity books which often included mazes: Help Dorothy reach the city of Oz, or help Timmy find Lassie—some great prize was waiting on the other end of a twisted, tangled, branching set of pathways. Often there were three or four starting places and little known to the unsuspecting child, if you chose the wrong starting place, you could try all you want, but you were not going to get to the prize.

So too with real life. There is only one way, but if we’ve headed off in the wrong direction, we have the option of backtracking—of repenting—and changing course to follow the Light, to traverse the Way.

That’s what God wants, and that’s why He patiently waits.

Promotion – What Makes A Work Go Viral?

I suppose every author and musician, maybe every dancer or videographer, movie producer, or TV exec wants to know the same thing — what makes a work go viral?

In other words, why did Harry Potter become such a success? Why Eragon? The Passion of the Christ? Twilight? Hunger Games? Left Behind? Shadowmancer? The Da Vinci Code? The Shack? Is there something these books have in common that brought them so much attention?

The first thing I notice is that all except perhaps Hunger Games made the national news for one reason or the other. In most cases the reason was controversy. Harry Potter received criticism from Christians as did The Da Vinci Code. Christians debated the merits of The Shack. Shadowmancer supposedly angered a faction of Christians and came to the US under a cloud of criticism. And Jews objected to The Passion.

Some of the works received national attention because of a human interest aspect. Christopher Paolini began writing Eragon when he was fifteen, self-published, and traveled the country with his parents hand selling the book until it was picked up by a traditional publisher, and made national news.

The Left Behind books found their way in front of network viewers because of their success in the Christian market. (In the same way, Amish stories are now coming out of the ABA — because they continue to sell and sell and sell.) Twilight was a phenom because, of all things, the teenage lovers didn’t have sex.

But the question remains. How did these books garner enough sales to catch the public’s attention?

It seems something first captivated an initial group who started talking. Left Behind had a well-known non-fiction writer as one of the co-authors, and I expect that pulled in a number of initial readers. But I also believe it tapped into a fascination about future events.

The Shack took a different path. The book creators solicited promotion from its readers within its covers. At the end, there were specific action points that were designed to get satisfied readers talking about the book and buying more copies to give away.

Twilight caught the attention of a group of romance lovers with a strict moral code. Perhaps Mormons banded together to support the book initially (pure conjecture on my part).

Shadowmancer, besides claiming religious controversy, also took on the mantle of the “Christian” Harry Potter, possibly earning itself a niche following.

In contrast, The Da Vinci Code may have picked up fans from the new atheist crowd or from any anti-Catholic, and of course once the Pope spoke out against it, the controversy was on.

It appears that the first thing, though, was something within the work itself. The Passion of the Christ had so many unique aspects — a famous actor seeing the project through in the face of rejection from traditional sources (human interest), opposition from a religious group (controversy) which garnered national attention, a non-traditional approach to the subject matter, a highly religious film using Biblical material as its primary source, a select group of unknown actors. In other words, there was lots to talk about.

I already mentioned the content of the Left Behind books. Harry Potter had a unique story world. Hunger Games had a timely, intriguing dystopian concept that tapped into a current cultural phenomenon — reality games.

In other words, either the author or the subject seemed to set the work apart from others, which caused first readers/viewers to pay attention.

In each case, a big budget marketing plan didn’t seem to be responsible for the work’s success. People were. But the people who talked about what they read or viewed first had to have something to talk about, something unique enough that they wanted to pass it along to others.

And viral happened.

Backfires and Books

Those of you who watch the news probably know that Northern California has been coping with an incredible number of wild fires, some threatening areas known for their pristine landscape. Recently I saw a news piece about one effort to contain these fires. The method of choice was the backfire.

I remember when I was young hearing about firefighters intentionally setting fires, and I was somewhat horrified. The concept of fighting fire with fire didn’t register as particularly wise. Not to mention, that those backfires looked dangerously closer than the wildfire.

Of course I’ve learned since just what the purpose is for these backfires—to eat up the available fuel before the out-of-control conflagration reaches whatever line firefighters have determined must not be crossed.

What does any of this have to do with books?

As I’ve thought about some of the most successful books—Left Behind, Harry Potter, Shadowmancer, and now, The Shack—it seems to me there is often a wildfire feel about the books, with a backfire kind of response. The result appears to be more flames and more smoke. In the book business, this is all good because the smoke and the flames mean the book is getting noticed.

The thing about wildfires is, something has to ignite them, in ample dry tinder. Continuing with this as an analogy for book sales, I suggest the publicist might be considered an arsonist, intentionally sparking the fire. But fires also start because of lightning or downed electric wires or a cigarette tossed out a car window. They can start by the wind catching a spark from a campfire or a car backfire. These accidental, unpredictable, unexpected beginnings of forest fires catch us off guard.

But here’s where the analogy falters. In the book business, there does indeed seem to be a backfire response to some books that seem to be uncontainable, but the backfire itself adds to the flame and the smoke and seems to become a part of the conflagration, not something to eat up the available fuel.

I’ve said before, controversy sells books. But can controversy be manufactured? Maybe for a one book length of time a la Shadowmancer. But in the end, there has to be substance to the original fire, or the backfires simply aren’t necessary.

Much like natural fires, the progress of a book-fire is in the hands of God. I may not understand why one fire starts and is immediately snuffed out or why another takes off and burns thousands and thousands of acres.

However, I do think it’s important not to go around setting unnecessary backfires. And I think it’s important not to go around setting imitation fires. 😉

As an author, I want my book-fire to be as big and out of control as it can possibly be. There are some things I can dictate. Where I start the fire, the strength of the flame. But winds, humidity, firefighting resources, those are things beyond my control. Not beyond God’s.

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Two weeks to go before Donita K. Paul’s DragonLight blog tour. 😀

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 10:59 am  Comments Off on Backfires and Books  
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Content, the Necessary Ingredient—Book Buzz, Part 2

I know, I know. We writers all understand that story matters most, we need to craft well, blah, blah, blah. You want, as I do, to get on with it. To talk about getting people buzzing about New Author’s work. How does it happen? What are the secrets?

First, if people really knew the answer to this, we would see more repeats of the Harry Potter phenomenon or that of the Left Behind series. My firm belief is Content is the secret. Trouble is, no one really knows what or why certain stories catch on as they do. In retrospect, though, we can learn a little, I think.

For example, the Left Behind series tapped into a universal curiosity about the future, in particular the apocalyptic end of time. Even people who don’t believe it are curious about it. And Harry Potter? I’d suggest the thing that first caught readers was the imaginative world that felt brand new yet familiar and believable. And secret. Which is what The Da Vinci Code used to vault Dan Brown into stardom.

The first literary explosion I witnessed was Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books back in the late ’70’s I think. Obviously well before the internet, so that buzz was person to person—the water-cooler kind. And what was it about his books? Even he does not know. I suspect it was a mixture—a most unlikely hero and a most desirable place (with wonderful, worthy people readers wanted to see saved).

In summary, very different hooks drew people into these different series. My conclusion is, there is no formula, unless you want to say, the formula is to avoid a formula. However, the books need to offer something that appeals broadly, whether it is place or topic or person.

So why all the emphasis on content? Because the best marketing in the world might get people to read book one, but because of the trust factor I mentioned yesterday, readers will never buy book two unless that first one delivers.

What must it deliver? Something that leaves people wanting to talk about the book to someone else. True buzz, the kind that creates the phenomenal book-buying events, comes about because people want to discuss what they read. People are saying to their friends, what did you think about …

You see, I don’t think these phenomenal events can be manufactured. People spread the word because a book is on their mind, because they don’t quite know what to think about it and want to hear what others have to say.

Is it possible to write that kind of book? Yes, on some level, but perhaps not on a universal level. In other words, people in the target audience can very well be so taken by a book that they want to tell others they know who love the same type of story, that this is a Must Read. But for that to happen, the book must stay on their mind. That means, the book has to offer something a cut above the average. Then, and only then, will buzz “work.”

Published in: on January 9, 2008 at 1:09 pm  Comments (3)  
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