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 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!

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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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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Fantasy Friday – The Short Version

Congratulations to John Otte, the latest winner of the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award.

I had the plumber here all morning (second time this week), but things are looking up. No hot water because of a gas snafu in the laundry room of our apartment building, but now that’s taken care of (no cold shower tomorrow or boiling water for dishes—I feel like I’ve been camping out! 😉 )

Anyway, in spite of all that, I posted a guest blog article by Jonathan Rogers over at Speculative Faith. Jonathan is an exceptional author and his newest book, The Charlatan’s Boy, released this Wednesday.

You’ll be hearing more about the book because it is the CSFF feature for November. But for now, check out the cover and Jonathan’s interesting ideas about writing American fantasy.

Then this afternoon, I had a good writing session. I’m working on a section of book 4 of The Lore of Efrathah that needed to be fleshed out. It’s fun, fun, fun, to be writing new material again.

Unfortunately, that put blogging at the end of the day, and I’ll be honest, my brain is fried. I had a great topic all worked out this morning as I was doing dishes, but it’s left me.

The best I can do is to tell you to go read Jonathan’s article.

Published in: on October 8, 2010 at 6:59 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – The Short Version  
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