CSFF Blog Tour – Corus The Champion By D. Barkley Briggs, Day 2

Borrowing versus creating — when is a work considered “derivative”? I’ve asked that question before in a short two-part series of posts, and yet the topic came up again in my article yesterday at Spec Faith. Consequently, as I read some of the tour posts about Corus The Champion by D. Barkley Briggs (AMG/Living Ink), the topic was fresh on my mind.

Clearly Dean (which is what the D in D. Barkley Briggs stands for) did his share of borrowing. His epic story includes Arthurian figures, but he doesn’t stop there as others on the tour noted:

Briggs deals heavily in the folk traditions of our own world. Arthurian legends are central to his story. His fairies are drawn more purely after the pattern in European fairytales than I have ever seen, and I saw a surprising number of gleanings from the Norse. (from Shannon McDermott‘s Day 1 post)

In addition, tour member Gillian Adams noted particular similarities to Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain:

Many aspects of the Legends of Karac Tor (the horned king, cauldron born, etc.) seem remarkably similar to the Chronicles of Prydain and there is a very simple reason: both Alexander and Briggs drew upon ancient Welsh mythology from the Mabinogen to form their tales. (from “The Peoples and Creatures of Karac Tor”)

At the same time the Legends of Karoc Tor has its own inventiveness — the Gorse, the Highlanders who strap on wings — as well as a new twist to familiar devices. Each of the brothers has a gift, for instance, but these have their own uniqueness. For example, one boy can “mind-speak” to birds — not to other humans or to the animal kingdom at large, but to birds.

The main illustration of this twist to the familiar is evident in the story structure. It is a portal fantasy, in which characters from the real world travel to a fantasy world, but it is more than that — Dean adds in a layer by having a few chosen characters travel between the worlds and back and forth through time. (I was immediately reminded of Stephen Lawhead’s current series with its use of ley lines — but Dean didn’t borrow from Lawhead since he wrote his book before The Skin Map was published).

Of course there are also elements familiar to our contemporary world — political in-fighting, greed and exploitation, corruption, religious squabbles, and more.

In short, I find Corus The Champion to be a wonderful blend of the familiar and the fantastic, the known and the unknown, the borrowed and the created. Dean has taken time to build his world, to give it depth, to allow the place to impact the story, to show the people shaped by the world. This is the kind of writing J. R. R. Tolkien referred to as sub-creation. And quite honestly, it’s the kind of fantasy I like best.

Fantasy Friday – You Might Like to Know …

Lots going on in the world of fantasy.

First, Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper are running a couple interesting promotional events in preparation for the release of their co-authored book, Curse of the Spider King, book 1 of their series The Berinfell Prophecies (Thomas Nelson).

First is a campaign to blitz Amazon on October 7 with pre-orders. This is particularly aimed at readers who are already planning to purchase the book, but I suspect new readers will also be welcome. 😉

Before this first, they launched a forum to discuss the books in this new series — The Underground.

More recently they revealed a huge, giganto, fun, exciting contest they’re running to help get the word out about the book. They’re calling it, Build Your Tribe, Begin Your Quest. Sounds cool! 😎 And one of the prizes? A personal book signing party with lots of freebies for the winner!

And finally, they’re holding several extravaganza-type launch events. In Maryland, they’re speaking, signing, and performing at various places on October 16 and 17. In New York, they’ll be doing the same October 30 and 31.

By the way, the CSFF blog tour will be featuring Curse of the Spider King in November. I’m looking forward to reading this YA fantasy.

Speaking of tours and contests, Donita Paul has announced the closing date of her library contest for The Vanishing Sculptor. From her newsletter:

Library Contest
The library contest finally has an end date:
November 20, 2009

Why November 20? Because it is Mrs. Paul’s birthday, and we think it would be fun to give something away on her birthday. 😀

The Contest Image Gallery is almost complete, but we need more pictures of YOU (and your librarians)!

Remember your camera (or use your camera phone) next time you go to the library and get a picture of you with Mrs. Paul’s books on the shelves. Be creative! We want to see your faces!

NEW CONTEST RULE: You will be entered up to two times for each picture of faces you submit to webmaster@dragonkeeper.us.

If you have already submitted pictures or screenshots–thank you! They have likely been received. Our webmaster is working hard at getting them entered into the gallery, so your patience will soon be rewarded.

What else? There’s a new Christian fantasy forum called Holy Worlds.

Rachel Star Thomson won the September CSFF Top Blogger Award. Congratulations, Rachel!

Marcher Lord Press announced their new line of books/authors with special pricing if you purchase a number together.

Starlighter, first in the Dragons of Starlight series by Bryan Davis (Zondervan), can now be pre-ordered. Here’s the blurb from Bryan’s newsletter:

Jason Masters has heard his older brother Adrian’s tales about dragons kidnapping humans. Supposedly, almost one hundred years ago, a dragon stole away several humans and enslaved them on its own planet. These Lost Ones, as Adrian called them, live terrible lives as cattle. Yet, the Underground Gateway, the portal to the dragon planet, still exists somewhere, and a secret society of the same name has long tried to find it so they can rescue the Lost Ones.

When Adrian leaves to find the portal, Jason takes his place as the Governor’s bodyguard. Although the government has tried to cover up the evidence, he learns that the legends are true, and after being accused of murder and learning that Adrian’s life is in danger, he has to conduct his own search for the portal, a journey filled with danger and intrigue.

Aided by a gifted young lady named Elyssa and an eccentric escapee from the dungeon named Tibalt, Jason ventures into the wilderness to locate Adrian and the Lost Ones. Yet, what he finds on the dragon planet proves to the biggest surprise of all. Koren, a lonely slave girl, is a powerful being called a Starlighter, the slaves’ only hope for survival and rescue, though most refuse to believe that their ancestors ever came from another planet.

D. Barkley Briggs, author of The Book of Names, announced good news about his second (and, sadly, orphaned) book (NavPress is no longer publishing fiction):

UPDATE: I am securing all rights back from Navpress as we speak. Once the paper work is finalized, I hope to locate another publisher soon. How soon? Don’t know, but I’ve had a couple of random inquiries with no real effort on my part, so I’m hopeful. Please be patient. My personal schedule is tied up until at least the first of October. The good news in all of this is that Books 1-3 are complete! They just need a home.

I suspect there is more news in fantasy, but that should do it for today.

Perseverance and Publishing

(Yes, an anomalous Saturday post—I owe you one from the week I was sick.)

How long do you keep after something if it’s not working?

Over and over I read on the Internet and in author interviews and in writing publications that above all else, a writer needs to persevere. I’m wondering, then, if that shouldn’t be true of publishing houses.

Recently the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association (ECPA) put on a Book Expo designed to supplant the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) trade show. The idea was that a books-only event aimed at readers, not bookstore owners and managers, would do more for the publishing business.

From all reports (here’s Thomas Nelson CEO, Michale Hyatt’s), however, the event was a dismal failure. While the organizers anticipated upwards of 15,000 people to attend, the numbers were closer to 1500. Discussion has flurried and those in the know have a sense of what went wrong and how the event could be improved. (Chip MacGregor voiced his opinion here and an “insider,” here.)

Apparently the problem was not with the product—the panels and author appearances received high marks. Where things broke down seems to be in the promotion, along with the cost and the venue.

I can testify that Internet promotion was nearly non-existent. I am involved in several writer groups and I visit a number of writer blogs. When I recently read that someone was getting ready to head off to Dallas for the book expo, my reaction was, Really, it’s here so soon? I thought about it a moment, then remember that when I first heard about the event I thought it was too bad it was so close to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. I figured one would necessarily hurt the attendance of the other since few writers would want to leave home for Dallas, then turn around less than a month later and fly to California.

Apart from the poorly chosen date, I wondered why I hadn’t heard more about the event. From reports, evidently the ECPA executives assumed the publishers would promote it. Could be the publishers, in turn, assumed the writers would promote it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers thought, Finally, an event I don’t have to promote.

All the what-went-wrong discussion aside, some insiders have expressed doubts about a second ECPA book expo.

Are they so quick to give up? When writers are told to persevere, persevere, persevere?

Unfortunately, I see a trend. Recently D. Barkley Briggs announced that NavPress, the publisher of his YA fantasy, The Book of Names, was pulling the plug on book two. The amazing thing is, the book is edited, the cover designed, the pages typeset. In fact the book was due to release next month, but reportedly the sales numbers for The Book of Names don’t warrant going ahead with the project.

This is a repeat of what Kathryn Mackel experienced when Strang pulled the plug on her supernatural suspense after the first book, Vanished, came out.

What happened to perseverance? When a person or a business or an association takes on a new project, there should be some understanding that success won’t be instantaneous, that getting the word out to all the right people takes time and effort (and some money).

But here’s a bigger consideration for Christians. If we pursue something we believe God has led us to, doesn’t that require us to hang in there and trust that He will see us through? (Especially if “hanging in there” means honoring a contract?)

The fright-and-flight reaction of these publishers who lost a lot of money on the book expo, and of NavPress, which apparently lost money on The Book of Names, is similar to the reaction Gideon could have had when God sent home 99 percent of his army and the reaction Saul did have as his army deserted him.

In Gideon’s case, he trusted God and his gang of 300 achieved an incredible victory. In Saul’s case, he took things in his own hands, ended up incurring God’s wrath, and lost everything.

So back to the question: How long do you keep after something if it’s not working? As long as God wants you to. It seems like the right answer for writers, publishers, and associations alike.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Book of Names, Part 3


Karac Tor—a place of wisdom and terror, magic, healing and darkness. Here, Aion, the Champion of Olfadr-Across-the-Sea, established the Three Holy Orders: Black, Gray and White Abbeys. He appointed the Three Taines, as well—festivals of Land, Fire and Water—to preserve the people and establish virtue. Here, Kr’Nunos the Devourer has ever labored to bring corruption and tyranny, though he has been held back for a time. Here, mortal Champions serve the purpose of the King, to assure that his deep connection to the land remains vital and just. Here, the Book of Names keeps staggering record of every person ever born under the bright sun of Karac Tor—not only those already born, but also those yet to be, past, present and future, for all time—until the War of Swords.

So goes the description of The Land in The Book of Names at author D. Barkley Briggs’ (Dean) Web site.

Though I’d love to continue the discussion about how much darkness is too much (great comments in the last two posts, by the way 😉 ), I’m opting today to review our CSFF feature, as is my custom during tours.

The Story. The Book of Names brings the Barlow brothers to the mysterious Hidden Lands of Karac Tor, a place of magic and conflict and power. While Hadyn and Ewan desire to return home above all else, they have been marked by forces of evil who wish to capture and destroy them. When one of them falls into enemy hands, the adventure is on.

Strengths. The two main characters, Hadyn and Ewan Barlow, are sympathetic. Their mother has recently died, they’ve moved to a new place, and they’re hurting.

The fantasy world is dense, as you can tell from the above quote describing the land. It has a somewhat complex religious system, ripe with strife; layers of evil; a governmental structure complete with political intrigue; and numerous magical forces, some rather ambiguous. There is a detailed history and traditions and geography. In other words, Karac Tor has fabric, as a real place would have.

The story is the classic fantasy tale of people from one land transporting to another in the throes of a good-versus-evil struggle. But at risk in this new world are the children, and consequently all of Karac Tor. In that regard, The Book of Names may be viewed as a parable of our world today.

The themes aren’t presented through allegory, but are woven into the story with symbols and allusion. As you would expect, names are important, and Briggs includes names that allude to the Arthurian tales, Celtic and Norse mythology, and Scripture.

The writing is good and in places, fun. Giving a nod to Lloyd Alexander’s character Fflewddur Fflam in the Chronicles of Prydain, Briggs introduces Cruedwyn Creed who plays a significant role in the story but also provides some comic relief.

Weaknesses. The fantasy world is dense. Yes, I view this fact as a strength and a weakness because much of the first half of the book was devoted to setting up the parts of this extensive world. For fantasy writers, set up is always an albatross—we fail if we don’t set the world up in a way that makes it seem real, but we slow the story down too much if we do. The ideal, of course, is a story that includes the depth of The Book of Names but at a pace closer to today’s commercial fiction.

Others will disagree with me on this next point, but I felt jerked about with the omniscient point of view. Because the story took me to numerous scenes away from the Barlow brothers and because I didn’t firmly identify with one brother over the other, I had trouble connecting with the characters until the halfway point. However, when the one protagonist expressed a clear desire and took steps to achieve it, I strongly identified with him from that point on. I can only wish that had taken place sooner.

Recommendation. The Legends of Karac Tor is a crossover series—from YA to adult. The Book of Names is, in some ways, an introductory book. Though it has stand-alone features, including a satisfying resolution, it begins the tale that obviously will continue in the next book, Corus the Champion, due out in April. I am so grateful for this rich fantasy, the closest thing to epic Christian fantasy I’ve read in a long time. For those who love the genre as I do, this is a must read.

I also recommend you take time to read these other articles from blog tour participants:

John Otte discusses the theme in conjunction with the power in a name.

Andrea Graham addresses the topic of magic and spiritual gifts as well as the eschatology of Karac Tor.

Phyllis Wheeler examines the portrayal of the Christian walk in Christian fantasy, in light of the Tolkien/Lewis models.

At Speculative Faith I did a wrap up of the discussion here about what constitutes too dark in fantasy.

See Part 1 for the entire list of participant posts.

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 1:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Book of Names, Part 2

How much darkness is too much? I began this discussion yesterday as part of the CSFF Blog Tour for D. Barkley Briggs’ debut novel The Book of Names. I really appreciate all the comments addressing this subject. Each one has helped to clarify my thinking.

A little background is in order to explain why I think this question is so significant. When I first started writing my fantasy, now entitled The Lore of Efrathah, I included a section of backstory that “explained” the evil. I had a friend read it, and she said in no uncertain terms that if I included that section in the book, she wouldn’t read it. Oh, well, I thought, one reader lost. I kept the info.

Later, I asked an educator, who had said he was willing to endorse my work, to read. When he returned the manuscript, he said he couldn’t give me the endorsement in part because of the same material my friend had reacted to.

So years later, when I’d studied fiction and taken the scene out, not because of the darkness but because of the poor technique, I considered writing a prequel based on that background information. As I moved on in the story and wrote book two, I came upon a place that demanded more darkness.

Now I had a choice. Do I put the darkness in, knowing that I may find some readers like my friend, like that educator, or do I take it out? I prayed. I entered into discussions with other writers about “edgy Christian fiction,” and in the end, I wrote the chapters that are dark.

Why? I’d have to say, I did so because I needed evil to be credibly dangerous. If there was no threat, there was no need to fight it.

So now you know a little bit where I’m coming from. I have written dark scenes (I think my aunt stopped reading my books for that reason, but she’s too polite to say so).

Here’s where my thinking is now. Depicting darkness in and of itself is not wrong—the world is a dark place. In stories, depicting darkness may even be necessary to show the opposition to good. Darkness, however, to a certain degree is in the eye of the beholder. To God, all our disobedience is dark, heinous, a stain that separates us from Him. But to us? We see darkness every day, and quite frankly have developed tough skin to much of it. What makes us look away today, what would we label as revolting? The answers to those questions will vary from person to person.

So what’s a writer to do? How can you write to an audience that varies from person to person in the darkness tolerance level? Or should we write to God’s standards and show none of it because it is all revolting to Him?

Quite frankly, parts of my darkest scenes are revolting to me. I had a hard, hard time writing them. But I wanted them to be revolting. I wanted the darkness to look dark. But that’s the thing—I didn’t want anyone to mistake the dark for light.

So here’s what I came to for my writing:

  • I wouldn’t glorify evil by making it look appealing
  • I wouldn’t write in the evil character’s point of view to avoid appearing to endorse his thinking and to avoid bringing readers that close
  • I would focus the story on the fight against evil not on evil
  • Obviously other writers handle the subject differently. D. Barkley Briggs (Dean) is one. He has segments in The Book of Names that he wrote in the evil characters points of view. Here’s a short sample:

    “They will enter the bay soon,” Nemesia informed the shadowed man before her. He [The Devourer] was a towering figure, horned and helmeted with iron, caped in purple the color of spilled wine. He wore shimmering chain mail. A huge sword was slung at his back …

    The Devourer smiled dangerously. “My time is near.”

    “Well, my time is now,” Nemesia hissed. “I prepared the way before you. I weaken the will of both land and people …”

    As she spoke, the air around Nemesia became gray and blurry. She seemed to grow in both stature and terror. The Devourer, cloaked as a man, watched from the shadows, arms folded, unmoved. When he stepped into the beams of light, his dark eyes narrowed threateningly. He had a scarred face that was fierce and seductively handsome. Almost imperceptibly, he stretched two fingers toward her. The air in the room became a marinade of power.

    Nemesia convulsed. Her body shook. Her exalted stature shrunk as if melting. Within moments she was on her knees, limp, bowed over, gasping for air.

    So is that scene too dark? Or is too dark more than reading about evil acting as evil acts?

    To see the updated list of blog participants who I know have posted see yesterday’s post.

    I would like to draw attention to a couple articles I think you might especially be interested in:

    Jason Isbell has an interview with Dean.

    Rachel Star Thomson posited a thought-provoking question based on the opening of Book 2 in the Legends of Karac Tor.

    Chawna Schroeder reviews the book and gives her thoughts on its darkness.

    CSFF Blog Tour – The Book of Names, Part 1

    bookofnames-199x300 I don’t know about you, but all I needed to be intrigued by The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs (NavPress) is the cover. (Special kudos to NavPress for doing such a terrific job). My first thought was of Edgar Allen Poe, for fairly obvious reasons to anyone familiar with his famous poem, “The Raven.” (And coincidentally, today is the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birthday! 😮 )

    I tend to think the imagery is intentional, though I have no inside information regarding that. But the possibility raises an interesting question: how dark is too dark when it comes to fantasy?

    If you haven’t read any Poe, you may wonder how I got from him to too dark. Poe’s contributions to American literature—including short stories such as “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”—are fraught with the macabre and embraced by the Goth. Too dark is perhaps understated.

    But what constitutes too dark?

    Ted Dekker is famous for his restatement of the idea that fiction, in order to show the diamond of God’s glory, must show the black backdrop against which it stands. In that context, the question seems to be, How black is too black?

    I’m reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Return of the King, a very dark book in my estimation. And the closer Frodo went to Mt. Doom, the darker the story became. Yet it is unlikely that book would make anyone’s too-dark list.

    So I’m back to the original question, a very practical one for me as a writer … a fantasy writer … with a central good-versus-evil struggle: what constitutes too dark?

    Is it true that evil must be drawn clearly in order to showcase good? Dekker said that too much Christian fiction grays evil. If evil doesn’t really look all that bad, then who’s to say Mankind really needs a Savior, so his reasoning goes.

    But must we dwell on evil? And what constitutes “dwelling” on it? Is entering into the evil character’s point of view “dwelling” on the evil?

    Does this question even have an answer? I believe there is an objective standard of beauty, but is there the same for evil? And if there is, how much is “acceptable” in a piece of fiction?

    Here’s the thing. I have a sense that there is a line that authors may cross that would take a story too far into evil, but I don’t know if I can articulate where that line is.

    What are your thoughts?

    Tomorrow I’ll tie the discussion more specifically in with The Book of Names.

    For today, I encourage you to stop by the other participating bloggers who have posted on the book. I’m trying something new. If you click on the check mark that indicates a post is up, it should take you to the specific article. That way, some weeks later, people can still find these articles with ease. (Who knows, if it gets too time consuming, I may have to abandon the idea, but for this month, you’ll have access to the direct links – 😉 ).

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