Need A Little Fiction Help


I originally started this blog for those interested in fiction, to discuss the way writers can show through stories the truth about the world, which of course includes the truth about God. I’ve branched out, as anyone who stops by here regularly can see. I write more now about how God works in and through us to touch the world.

But every once in a while I come back to my fiction roots. After all, I am still committed to story as a vehicle for the truth.

Today, I want to ask for your help. All of you, but especially those who love story.

At the team blog, Speculative Faith, where I write every Monday, I run a contest twice a year called a writing challenge. I give a first line, and then anyone who wants to, can enter the contest by writing what comes next, either a complete short piece of fiction or the beginning of a story. The entries are short—between a hundred and three hundred words. (A computer-generated double-spaced page is usually 250 words).

We accepted entries, had an evaluation period, and pulled out the top three stories. Monday I created a poll and readers are voting on the one they like best. All good, except at this writing, the three entries are DEAD EVEN. I mean, even, even. No difference. I said in case of a tie we’d do a coin toss, but I hope it doesn’t come down to that. So I figure, the best way to deal with this is to have more readers, more voters.

So my request: do you think it would be possible for you to take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to read the entries and to vote for the one you like best?

None is perfect. I mean, writers had only a limited amount of time and no say so on what that first line would be. Essentially I chose the verb tense and the point of view and the main character and to a lesser degree, the setting. I think it’s remarkable how the various writers pulled from their imagination and wrote such different stories or story beginnings.

But none of that helps separate who will win this year’s summer writing challenge. Please help. Please?

A big, huge thank you to all who are able to help out. Nothing helps more than readers who are unbiased and honest. You all will gain a few minutes of enjoyment, I think, but you’ll help me make this contest something that is valuable to writers. I appreciate you.

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Published in: on August 14, 2019 at 4:00 pm  Comments (6)  
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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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Review – Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman


I’m a sports nut. I also love good stories. Imagine how much I love a novel about an athlete. Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman is a wonderful story which just happens to feature a female athlete. What’s not to love? 😀

Chasing Hope coverThe thing is, Cushman is a talented writer who delves into the lives of her characters, often setting two opposites in juxtaposition so that their contrariness clashes. (See my reviews for her previous novels: A Promise to Remember, Waiting for Daybreak, Leaving Yesterday, Another Dawn, and Almost Amish.) By doing so, she allows them to grow, or to fail, however they choose. Chasing Hope is vintage Cushman.

The Story. When Sabrina Rice was twelve she knew what she wanted to do with her life. Just as Eric Liddell had, she wanted to win a gold medal and use her fame to tell others about Jesus Christ as a missionary. Ten years later, she’s on a different tack, heading into the corporate world. Apparently at twelve, she’d misunderstood God’s call because her hope for Olympic gold is a mere memory–one she tries hard to forget.

She’d done well to move past her dreams until Brandy Philip runs into her world, both at school and at home. There’s no avoiding the girl when Sabrina’s Nana begs her to intervene for the girl to help her stay out of juvenile hall.

Brandy has one talent–she can run. Fast. Sabrina knows the running world and is in a position to put in a good word for her, perhaps more. If she’s willing. The question is whether or not she can deal with the memories and doubts that come along with fulfilling her Nana’s requests.

Strengths. Cushman’s greatest strength is delving into her characters and pushing their emotional buttons by putting them into relationship with others who expose them for what they are.

In Chasing Hope the protagonist must confront herself because of a relationship with the guy she’s noticed and who’s begun to notice her; with her Nana who she loves dearly; with the granddaughter of her Nana’s friend who she pretty much detests; and with her parents who have differing ideas about what she should do with her life.

The result is a layered story with varied facets which make the main character seem like a real person, grappling with real doubts and questions, creating an invite for the reader to ask them as well. As a result, the story seems almost interactive.

The details of the running world are convincing. If there are errors, I didn’t pick up on them. The training regiments, the competition, the need for a runner to push herself beyond the point she thinks she can endure–the entire running milieu seemed realistic.

The story hung together beautifully, with one question after another driving the reader to keep turning pages. Why had Sabrina’s hope for Olympic gold died? What would she decide to do about Brandy? Why did she keep secrets from her love interest? Why was she trying to bury her past? What would become of Brandy? On and on, the questions are all delightfully enticing because Cushman makes the reader care about these characters.

The theme of the story is equally strong, never preached, perfectly wrapped inside the character development, and thoroughly Christian. No mistaking–this is Christian fiction.

Weakness. Reviews are always better when they are balanced, and more credible when the reviewer points out flaws instead of glossing them over. I know this, and I’m trying, but I honestly can’t come up with anything. Nothing pulled me from the story as I read. Nothing jumped out at me as I thought back over the story in the days after I finished reading it. And nothing comes to me know as I evaluate the elements. I’ll be interested to see if other reviewers managed to come up with something I’m not seeing.

Recommendation. This book is for Christians, and it confronts a question many committed believers ask. The protagonist is a woman, but she’s an athlete, so I have no doubt men can “get” this story, but I suspect women will make up the majority of the readers. Too bad. I think guys struggle with God’s calling on their lives just as much as women do. I think this is a must read for Christians. Non-Christians can definitely enjoy the story, but the main conflict will probably seem inconsequential to them.

In conjunction with the release of Chasing Hope, Cushman has a great sweepstakes going. I’ll give you details tomorrow.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher without charge with no requirement that my views would be favorable.

Contests And Awards


Spec-Faith-Winter-Writing-Challenge-300x150I love to highlight good books, especially Christian speculative fiction, but I also enjoy the opportunity to point blog readers to other bloggers who share a like passion. Thus the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award.

In case you missed it, there are four eligible bloggers who participated in the December tour for Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Each of these is deserving of recognition, but the nature of awards is that we pick the best of the best. And who else can do that but those who peruse the posts? Any and all who take a few minutes over the next few days will discover interesting, honest, balanced writing about a book in one of the hottest genres going: fairytale fantasy.

There’s also another opportunity you might want to participat in and/or help with. Over at Spec Faith we’re running the Winter Writing Challenge. Entries are coming in, but there are still four more days for you to submit your own piece–a one-hundred to two-hundred word continuation of this sentence prompt:

    If the reports were true, Galen had reached the right spot.

We need readers, too–people to give feedback on the entries by hitting the thumbs-up button for the selections they think are best. There is no limit on the number of entries for which you can give a positive endorsement at this stage of the challenge.

So have at it–you might be voting for a piece of writing that will turn into a blockbuster. 😉 (It’s possible!)

Fantasy Friday – The Fall Writers’ Challenge



Technically this Fall Writers’ Challenge isn’t strictly for fantasy. In fact, we’ve already had some entries that would best be described as science fiction or post-apocalyptic. Very creative. But let me back up.

The Challenge I’m referring to is over at Spec Faith. And before those of you who are not writers or who do not favor speculative literature stop reading, let me mention that we especially need readers. But first things first.

We have just two more days for writers to enter a 100-200 word piece into the Fall Challenge. I wrote a first line as a prompt, then your job, should you choose to accept it, is to write what comes next.

Already readers have weighed in, either with comments or the plus side vote–the thumbs up. But starting Monday the Challenge will be all about readers. Then the following week we’ll take the top three and put the challenge to a vote, letting readers pick the best entry and thus the winner of the Spec Faith Fall Challenge.

So, you see why we need both writers and readers. Both are welcome for two more days, then writers will be forced to the sidelines (well, as readers, of course, they can still play. 😉 )

Just to pique your interest a tad more, here’s the first line prompt:

    If dragon hopping was safe, then I wouldn’t have any interest in it, but of course it’s not, so guess where I’m heading.

Now it’s your turn. Why don’t you hop (dragon or otherwise) on over to Spec Faith and join in the fun. 😀

Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – The Fall Writers’ Challenge  
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Change And The Books You Read


I got to thinking about our reading habits and decided to put up a poll on Spec Faith to learn where readers are getting their books these days. The thing is, I really want to know more. I want to know how much readers think their book-buying habits have changed and what has affected them most.

Hence, I decided a poll here is in order too. It’s not a scientific study or anything, but it’s representative — especially so if a good number of people participate. Please feel free to share this post liberally. I’ll keep the poll open for a month, as I’m doing at Spec Faith. You can also select up to three options if they apply.

Published in: on April 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm  Comments (5)  
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Writers Writing Nothing New


Writing instructors constantly remind novelists that there is no such thing as a new story. All of them have already been told before. And why should we be surprised by that since there is no new thing under the sun.

A wife lured her husband into grabbing for power. Is that Macbeth or Eve with Adam? An innocent man is kidnapped and thrown in jail. Joseph, or The Count of Monte Cristo?

First, stories happened, then they became a tale someone told.

But why do writers keep on writing if none of the stories are new? I think there are several reasons. For one thing, the particulars of every story change.

The man-versus-man conflict has been told millions of times, for example, but in each one, a man is not murdering his brother. Perhaps he’s selling him to traders instead or setting his field on fire. Maybe he’s stealing the heart of his girlfriend or sleeping with his wife.

There are any number of details that can change — particulars about the characters, the location, the time, the events leading up to the culminating act, the motivation behind it, the resolution, and what it all means.

Writers continue telling stories, in addition, because each one of us adds our own touch. The story, in essence, becomes an expression of us — our personality, our outlook on life.

Painters have not stopped painting mountains because some other artist completed a landscape featuring mountains. Photographers haven’t stopped snapping pictures of sunsets because others before them have taken photos of the sun slipping below the horizon. These visual artists know that no one has captured their subject at that moment, in that way, and from that same perspective as the one presently holding a brush or peering through a lens.

So, too, writers bring their unique selves to each twice-told tale.

J. R. R. Tolkien said that writing is an act of sub-creation. Scripture says Man is made in God’s image. It’s not a stretch, then, to believe that the act of sub-creation is something humans do because of who God made us to be.

A fourth reason writers continue putting out stories even though we understand we are not writing a new thing — society needs them. For one thing, language changes, and some people prefer stories told in the vernacular.

In addition, society forgets. We need stories to remind us that there’s still a Big Bad Wolf in the woods, that a scorpion still stings because that’s what scorpions do.

Our stories anchor us to the truth, but they also serve as beacons looking forward. They fuel our imagination and make us look beyond ourselves. They attach us to one another, though we live across the globe or the galaxy or in a different era or world. They show us our commonalities even as they inform us of our uniquenesses.

Sure, no story is new, but none of them has ever been told in exactly the same way before. So writers keep writing, and readers keep reading.

Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 5:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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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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Women Protagonists and the Men Who Don’t Want to Read about Them


I realize that I am walking a thin line between understanding the male mind, when it comes to reading preferences, and stereotyping.

Some, of course, think I am stereotyping simply by referring to “the male mind” as if all humans have the same basic structure, with only individual distinctions. Well … no … besides being human we are male and female, as God created us. And then we are individuals.

Consequently I have no problem discussing “the male mind,” with the understanding that individual men will vary on either side of a continuum identified with “maleness.” But keep in mind, what I am saying on this subject is my opinion, based on my observation, not on a scientific study or even a poll eliciting corroborating (or conflicting) views.

Recently a visitor here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction asked some questions after one of my posts on women protagonists, “Women in Fiction, Part 3”:

As a female who reads a great deal, I would agree with that statement [that women can identify with female characters and better understand men by understanding the male character]. I am curious, though. Why wouldn’t the reverse also be true? Why do you think that men can’t learn about us through reading books with female main characters?

I think there are several reasons for the difference I see (and remember, I’m not saying every man will fit in every one of my points—some may not fit in any).

First, contemporary American society has created an atmosphere that can easily cause a man (and especially a boy) to be insecure in his identity as a male.

What is a man? Not so long ago answers to that question might have included “bread winner” or “leader” or “head of the household.” These things are no longer a given, and a man who wishes to claim those roles may be disparaged by society.

Being a man, then, has been reduced to a list of actions, often unattractive (scratching, spitting, ogling, and the like), but sometimes macho (assertion of power and prowess).

What man, searching for his identity in this climate, would then rush out to buy and read books starring women?

My contention is that men who have no problem reading books with female characters are probably quite comfortable with their identity as men.

I believe a second reason fewer men read books with women protagonists than do women with male protagonists, has to do with the differences in our gender make-up.

Women are emotional. Well, men are too, so let me back up. Women are more comfortable expressing our emotions than men are. In fact, I’d say women don’t feel we know people well unless we know the emotional side of them. We explore emotions because we want to connect with emotions. I suspect some men reading this paragraph are just about ready to gag. 😀

Typically men are less likely to show emotion and may even be uncomfortable around others who readily express feelings. I’ve seen boys mock boys for no other reason than for caring deeply.

And in books with women protagonists? I’d bet they all cry at least once. 😉 In fact, many of us as writers hope to induce our readers to cry (and laugh and feel some fear or worry or … emotion). Do guys pick up a book hoping they’ll cry? I doubt it! (Do male authors even wish to generate emotion the same way women writers do? Now that’s a question I haven’t thought of before).

There may be a host of other peripheral reasons why men and boys, in general, prefer to read books about guys not girls, men not women. I thought I could explore some of those as well, but I forgot how I tend to go on and on. (Perhaps a trait endemic to my role as a woman. 😉 ) Anyway, I think these two may be at the heart of the matter. Let me know what you think.

Published in: on April 30, 2010 at 9:28 am  Comments (5)  
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Women in Fiction, Part 3


So my contention is that men don’t want to read books that feature women. (Unless, of course, there are pictures! 😳 )

Here’s my thinking. Part of the reading experience is identifying with the main character. Men don’t want to identify with a woman. They’d feel less than a man.

Women, on the other hand, like to read books about either gender. We can identify with the female character and we can better understand men by understanding the male character.

Big generalities, I know, but I think there’s something to it. Here’s my theory.

What do we have in the book business? Mostly romance, written mostly by women. And yet in the CBA, most of the acquiring editors are men. I’m guessing a good number of the individuals on the pub boards (the ones making the decisions about what books to publish) are men, too.

The men making the decisions don’t know that women readers will read books with a variety of protagonists. They think women readers are like them, wanting to read about a character like them.

So they acquire books they think will appeal to women, knowing that manly-men won’t touch those books with a pole-vault-sized pole.

The problem is, those books only appeal to some women and to no men. The market is fairly closed, and perhaps even shrinking.

The “man books,” however, seem to do pretty well. Of course, I’m not privy to sales records, so I could be wrong, but I’ve seen Ted Dekker’s name on the best selling list a time or two. 🙂

But not every author is as successful. One of the best authors in the CBA, in my opinion, is one few have read. Why? His books are “man books” and men didn’t find out about them. They’re also “man books” dealing with overly-mined territory.

But here’s what happens. Because those books didn’t meet the publisher’s expectation, the report is, this particular house won’t be publishing any more books for men. They tried, and it didn’t work.

One series.

Guys who like sports might prefer a sports book, but that wasn’t an option. Those who want to read books with car chases and lots of explosions wouldn’t have found a book to their liking. In other words, no one novel fits all men.

And no one novel fits all women. But that’s not something women have to worry about because publishers have expanded their fiction selection for women. Besides romance (and there’s an abundance of that) women can choose from suspense, cozy mysteries, woman’s fiction, historicals, and even fantasy (think Karen Hancock and Sharon Hinck).

How many of those books are gender-crossovers?

Are such books possible? Desirable?

Still more to say about this subject. Another day.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 2:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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