Story And Culture

Jon_Provost_Lassie_1962I found a new TV channel–well, new to me–Cozi TV. As in, the opposite of gritty and real. Actually, it shows oldies. There have been a couple stations here in the LA area that launched using this same strategy. Cozi shows include The Bionic Woman and Magnum PI. And their late night fare? Lassie and The Lone Ranger and Hop-Along-Cassidy.

I fell asleep during that last one, but I had a chance to watch adorable little Timmy learn the don’t-cry-wolf lesson and the heroic masked man save another helpless victim from unscrupulous villains.

It was a little shocking, actually, to see moral good trotted right out on the screen, front and center, with no apology. Especially after I had recently read a New York Times article By Paul Elie entitled “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?”

What has happened to Western culture, I ask, when 50s TV paraded morality in its stories but in the aughts of the new century, fiction has lost its faith?

This, in short, is how Christian belief figures into literary fiction in our place and time: as something between a dead language and a hangover. Forgive me if I exaggerate. But if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature. (from “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?”)

Granted, there’s a good deal of difference between moral fiction and that showing Christian belief. And maybe the fact that the 50s pushed morality rather than the Person and reason behind moral standards in part explains what happened to Western culture.

Elie asks an intriguing question for one such as I, a Christian who aspires to publish Christian fantasy:

Where has the novel of belief gone?

The obvious answer is that it has gone where belief itself has gone. In America today Christianity is highly visible in public life but marginal or of no consequence in a great many individual lives.

There’s a great divide, according to Elie, between what we say we believe and how we actually live our lives. And I wouldn’t argue.

So is that it? Do we pack up our computers and retire from the stage, tiptoeing past the next equivalent of 50 Shades of Grey? Our society has moved past Christian and is on to something else more adaptable to its post-modern thought.

But wait a minute. What about the Left Behind books that garnered blockbuster sales numbers, or as bad as its theology, The Shack and its rise from the ranks of the self-published to best-seller status? Are these books of no consequence because they didn’t qualify by someone’s standard as literary or timeless?

Or are they, in fact, indicators that pop culture is touching a nerve that the literary world is missing?

In naming a smattering of stories that fit his standard, Elie says

These stories are not “about” belief. But they suggest the ways that instances of belief can seize individual lives.

A worthwhile point, especially in light of a second article, this in today’s Atlanta Daily World. “Why Being Christian is Hot…Again” enumerates various singers, actors, and public figures who have made some kind of profession of faith recently.

Despite all the pastoral turmoil, this year has been a proactive and reputable year for faith. Recently, a lot of heavy hitters have openly come out.

According to Jet Magazine, Bishop T.D. Jakes rise “from the pulpit to pop-culture” is what works. Recently Actress Meagan Good opened up to several Media outlets professing her faith, and controversial rapper Nicki Minaj expressed to “Nightline” that God was her hero.

Even Mega-church Pastor Jamal Bryant jokingly proclaimed Tim Tebow the thirteenth disciple, as the Pro football player stunned the world with statistical signs and wonders.

There was also surprisingly, much ado when Billionaire Media mogul Oprah Winfrey confessed Christ during one of her ‘Lifeclass’ tours in NYC. And after news of Rihanna “living her life for God” the string of events only further proclaim: It’s OK to “come out”. (from “Why Being Christian is Hot…Again” by April Byrd)

Is this the type of cultural influence a Christian novelists wants to have–that which has famous people jumping on a God-bandwagon? Or ought we to write about people whose lives have been seized, not by faith but by Jesus Christ?

Published in: on January 17, 2013 at 6:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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Fantasy Friday – New Novel Preparation

As I’ve mentioned in a couple previous posts, I’m in the process of starting a new novel. I’ve done considerably more pre-writing than I have in my previous work. To date, I’ve written four novels and started three others. The four complete books are those in The Lore of Efrathah, which is really just one story. The partials were for either a contest or a critique group and I never fully developed the characters or story.

Two of the partials are fantasy and one is contemporary. In none of those have I done as much preparation to write as I am with the one I’m working on now. In many ways I’m curious to see how this turns out — will the story be easier to get down or not?

So here’s what I’ve done so far. After going through (for the second time) two and a half writing books (the third one was getting into some redundancy) that each had writing exercises I could do with my new story in mind, I’ve created a character profile for the protagonist, developed a time line to connect this prequel to The Lore of Efrathah, drawn a map of the city which is the main location of the story, mapped out a subplot, and finally listed out some of the scenes I envision including — the most basic list of “what happens.”

I feel pretty ready to start, so today I tackled that first paragraph. I know by this time that what I put down today will be unrecognizable by the time I’ve written the entire story and revised the necessary times, but still I wanted to head in the right direction. It’s much easier to tell the story the way it should be told, I think, if I can start it in the right place.

Of course, I no sooner finished than I remembered I had considered setting this one in wintertime. Oh, so already I have some revision to make!

But here’s the cool thing. I don’t think I would have considered having this story take place during winter unless I’d done the pre-write work.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned about writing is to push beyond the obvious. So if it’s obvious for the main character to stop at a fast food joint and buy a burger and fries for dinner, then that’s what he should not do. Of course all the actions need to be properly motivated and logical. They just shouldn’t be obvious.

It’s a basic lesson, but I remember when I first started writing, I had some line about water. I don’t remember what it was exactly — maybe how someone leaped across a stream or how it gurgled between the rocks. At any rate, I asked a writer friend how he would say it, and to my dismay he used a completely different set of words. See, I thought then that I should be like everyone else. I should say what others were thinking. You can see, I had a lot to learn! In fact I had to change the way I approached writing.

The next hurdle for me was to be satisfying with suggesting scenes, painting with a light hand so readers had room to imagine rather than producing a detailed replica of what I was envisioning.

Honestly, I can’t begin to tell you how many different lessons I had to learn and how many old habits I had to break. In reality, I’m still learning and probably always will as long as I write. But what’s changed is that now I know a lot of what I need before I start writing.

Last point. Since I’m writing this post as part of the Fantasy Friday series, I should say a word about the fantasy elements in this book. There aren’t a lot yet! I decided to set this story in a period of time when a lot of the “magic” has become dormant. So one of the issues I have to deal with is how much do these people know about the special powers so central to The Lore of Efrathah. Writing a prequel, I’ve decided, isn’t as easy as it sounds! 😉

Published in: on February 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm  Comments (7)  
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It’s All In The Opening

In the last couple weeks, I received four new books in the mail! Whooo-hoo! It almost felt like Christmas.

As so often happens, when the new books come, I immediately grab them up and read a few pages, never mind what other books I might already have started. Inevitably I have to re-read those pages to recapture the story, but I don’t mind. I think I’m more in tune with what’s happening the second time around. You see, it’s pretty hard to capture my attention right off. I’m the one who had to start The Hobbit three times before getting into it.

Just for fun, I thought it might be interesting to give you the openings of the books I received and let you vote on the ones that captured your interest. I’ll make it multiple choice so that you can choose more than one answer if several (or all) hook you. I think I might throw in one or two others, too, just to spike the punch. 😉 So here they are, in no special order:

Choice A

    Sirens called him from his dreams. When the racket stopped, he rose and crossed the little bedroom of his hotel suite to lean out into the night, trusting his life to the freezing wrought iron railing just beyond the window so he could gaze down into the alley where a couple of New York City’s finest had thrown some guy against the bricks. Even from five floors up, even in the dark, Ridler recognized the lust for violence and the fear down there, but that was nothing compared to the play of the police car’s lights on the wall across the alley.

Choice B

    “And I say that you’re a fool, Addison Fletcher!” the brawny man declared, striking his ale mug against the bare wooden table for emphasis.

    “God smite me where I sit if I tell a lie, Coll Dawson!” Addison protested, his eyes flicking heavenward for the briefest of moments.

    “Ah, but — did you not say,” declared Coll, cocking an eyebrow and pointing a finger. “Did you not say that you got this account from another –”

    “From Rob Fuller,”piped a voice from the end of the table.

    “Aye, from Rob Fuller. And who’s to say that a tale told by Rob Fuller is true or false? Swearing oaths upon secondhand tales is not wise.”

Choice C

    It wasn’t a sound that woke Janner Igiby. It was a silence.

    Something was wrong.

    He strained into a sitting position, wincing at the pain in his neck, shoulders, and thighs. Every time he moved he was reminded of the claws and teeth that had caused his wounds.

    He expected to see the bearer of those claws and teeth asleep in the bunk beside him, but his brother was gone. Sunlight fell through the porthole and slid to and fro across the empty mattress like a pendulum, keeping time with the rocking of the boat. The other bunk’s bedclothes were in a heap on the floor, which was typical; Kalmar never made his bed back in Glipwood, either. What wasn’t typical was his absence.

Choice D

    From a snug in the corner of the Museum Tavern, Douglas Flinders-Petrie dipped a sop of bread into the gravy of his steak and kidney pudding and watched the entrance to the British Museum across the street. The great edifice was dark, the building closed to the public for over three hours. The employees had gone home, the charwomen had finished their cleaning, and the high iron gates were locked behind them. The courtyard was empty and, outside the gates, there were fewer people on the street now than an hour ago. He felt no sense of urgency: only keen anticipation, which he savoured as he took another draught of London Pride. He had spent most of the afternoon in the museum, once more marking the doors and exits, the blind spots, the rooms where a person might hide and remain unseen by the night watchmen, of which there were but three to cover the entire acreage of the sprawling institution.

Choice E

    The lantern, dangling from Repentance Atwater’s upstretched hand, cast a pool of yellow light around the village midwife, as she stooped beside Joy Springside’s sleeping mat. The rest of the cave lay in darkness.

    “Push, now, Joy!” the midwife commanded.

    Joy, her face scrunched with the effort, pushed.

    The baby came finally, all purple-skinned and slick with blood and screaming his protest at the world.

    Screaming his protest.

    A boy!

    It wasn’t fair! Lantern light splashed up and down the walls as Repentance’s hand shook.

    She grimaced, as the babe’s squalling bounced off hard stone walls and bruised her raw nerves. She should never have agreed to this.

Choice F

    A uniform named Nguyen is on the tape tonight. The flashing lights bounce off the reflective strips on his slicker. He cocks his head at my ID and gives me a sideways smile.

    “Detective March,” he says, adding my name to his log.

    “I know you, don’t I? You worked the Thomson scene last year.”

    “That was me.”

    “Good work, if I remember. You got a line on this one yet?”

    “I haven’t even been inside.” He nods at the house over his shoulder. A faux Tuscan villa on Brompton in West University, just a couple of blocks away from the Rice village. “Nice, huh? Not the first place I’d expect to be called out to.”

    “You think death cares where you live?”

    “I guess not. Answer me one thing: why the monkey suit?”

By the way, if you think you know who the author is, feel free to leave a comment and give us your guess. However, if you’ve read the book and actually KNOW who the author is, please limit your comment to a hint but don’t spoil the chance others have of guessing.

Remember, vote for all the beginnings that hooked you. The poll will remain open for a week.

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 6:14 pm  Comments (31)  
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