CSFF Tour Wrap – The Telling

Some tours generate controversy, others wide acclaim. I wouldn’t say The Telling by Mike Duran achieved the latter, but it hardly stirred up controversy either. I suspect that CSFF members who would have questioned the Biblical accuracy of some of the speculative elements simply chose to sit this one out. Hence, the numbers are somewhat down for this tour, but the praise is quite widespread. Not unanimous, certainly, but by far more participants praised the book than found fault with it.

In the end twenty-five bloggers posted thirty-nine articles over three days, with three yet to post (scheduling issues).

So here are the *participants eligible for the September CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award:

I invite you to review the posts of our eligible participants, then vote for the one you think is most deserving of the award. You’ll have just one week. The poll closes midnight (Pacific time), October 8.

*Lest anyone should think I inadvertently left off Steve Trower, I’ll mention that I decided not to include him since his Monday post was primarily a review of the Ross Lawhead book we toured while Steve was becoming a new father. I appreciate his due diligence a great deal and encourage any who haven’t stopped by his site to do so. You might especially like his regular Tuesday tour feature–Tuesday Tunes.

Published in: on October 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm  Comments (6)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 3

Yesterday I’d planned on discussing setting and mood because I think Mike Duran excels in painting a scene, as evidenced by his latest release and this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature, The Telling. Instead I got caught up in the comparison of Biblical prophets with the fictitious one portrayed in the novel. All that to explain the pictures in this post. They may seem unrelated, but if you look at the cover, and especially if you read the book, you’ll see they actually do relate.

The Review

The Story. Zeph Walker has a disfiguring scar on his face, but it’s as much a symbol of the scar across his soul as anything. Both paralyze him, but the town of his youth that has also become the home of his adulthood, needs him. In fact, the whole world may need him, if the prophecy is true. But that’s just it, how does he know if prophecy is true, especially the ones that once came from his own mouth?

Strengths. Mike Duran is a wonderful writer and a good storyteller. One reason I thought to devote an entire post to the setting in The Telling is because of Mike’s strong description. Here’s one early in the story:

She looked past the pines and boulders toward the Endurance basin. From here, US 395 snaked its way up from Death Valley, a dark, glistening ribbon that coiled, rose, and disappeared in the Black Pass farther north…These hills were full of tales. Indians. Miners. And Silverton, the ghost town hidden somewhere in the rugged foothills. Yet the most well-know of these tales was the one that placed the ninth gate of hell in an abandoned mine less than a mile from she stood. Tamra stopped and set her gaze in that direction. Morning fog wrapped the distant foothills in its hazy tendrils.

Not only does this kind of description give an image the reader can imagine, it paints a mood. Mike successfully uses his setting–often bleak and rocky, with splashes of ominous color–to add to the mystery and sense of foreboding and danger that steadily creeps from page to page.

Along with the setting and the mood it helps foster, Mike knows how to create suspense. He is a master at keeping secrets from readers, dropping hints at just the right time and in just the proper quantity so that the reader ends up with more questions and therefore a greater desire to know.

Suspense merged with a dark mood and a disfigured main character hardly seems to be the recipe for thought-provoking fiction, but Mike manages to stir the pot and make this horror story as much about faith and overcoming abuse as about escaping danger.

Weaknesses. Of course I’ve left out a great deal of the story–I detest giving spoilers in the summary. And yet, it’s hard to give a fair analysis without looking at some details. Consequently, I have to declare a SPOILER ALERT for this section.

My greatest issue with the book had to do with certain plot points–I call them holes for lack of a better term.

First, the story opens with Zeph discovering that a man who looked exactly like him is lying dead in the morgue. As the story unfolds, the reader comes to understand that others have a duplicate too, except the originals have been replaced and, in fact, turn up dead.

As I recall, when all this is revealed, there is no explanation given how Zeph managed to be duplicated without knowing it and without being killed.

Later, when Zeph is on his way to do what he believes he needs to do, he’s attacked, but again, he doesn’t die, and I don’t recall an explanation (or at least one that satisfied so it stuck with me), why he wasn’t killed. Two friends find him–but don’t really rescue him–and together they set off for a different place to locate the real site from which evil is escaping.

Except they separate. The mysterious armed Indian, heads off to confront an evil force, leaving Zeph and the brave girl who chooses to stay with him.

Two things here: This sudden and fast friendship between Zeph and Tamra didn’t work for me. I believed the early interest and even the attraction, but when she says something about having to stay with him, I thought, Why? I don’t see why she would choose Zeph over her grandmother.

In addition, Little Weaver’s departure felt too much like those silly girls in horror movies who hear a noise and go into the dark to investigate. Stay together, I said. Stay together. But no, they must split up.

But why? Later Little Weaver turns up, with an injury but still alive, in the same place as the grandmother, which is where Zeph and Tamra finally go. So again, I wonder what was the point of them splitting up in the first place.

There’s also a government conspiracy thread to the story, which I thought worked, but I would like to have had the character responsible for the events associated with this be more active in the story. He lurked far too long, I believe.

Along that line, I’d like to have seen Little Weaver have a significant role in Zeph’s life–one that would fit Zeph’s emotional reaction at the end. It seemed odd to me to respond as he did to the loss of someone who he freely admitted he didn’t understand and didn’t trust. [END SPOILER ALERT]

But the thing is, the people who love this genre, whose reviews I’ve read, made little mention, if any, of these plot holes. The fact that the suspense and the mystery pulled the story along in such a way that apparently few readers were trying to make things add up, speaks volumes to Mike’s storytelling ability.

Recommendation. As I say every time the CSFF Blog Tour features a novel in the supernatural suspense genre, I am not the target reader. Those who enjoy the spooky, the dark, the slightly warped, will like this book. A lot. Those who like myths and mysteries and Indian legends will like it too. It is well written, filled with beautiful description, and brings to mind some big issues that the thoughtful reader will appreciate. Highly recommend this one for any in that group.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Published in: on September 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 2

“A prophet never loses his calling, only his way.” So reads the tag line for Mike Duran‘s recent release, The Telling, a contemporary supernatural suspense.

The premise brought to mind a couple Biblical prophets. The first was Jonah, a good model for the main character in The Telling, in my opinion. Both received a call from God, both renounced that call, both suffered consequences and came to a place of despair, only to have God pull them out of the depths and give them another chance to obey Him. Of course, Jonah’s story doesn’t end there whereas the fictitious Zeph does experience redemption at the end.

Jonah “pulled up a chair” to watch the destruction he had prophesied. When it didn’t come, he sulked. God gave him an object lesson to show him how lacking in compassion he was.

The fictitious Zeph wasn’t lacking in compassion. He simply didn’t realize that his lack of obedience was causing others to suffer. Once he came to that realization, things began to change.

The second Biblical prophet I thought of was Balaam, perhaps not as well known as Jonah. He was hired by one king to curse the people of Israel. God’s people. Apparently Balaam was a prophet of God, so this was an ironic situation, a prophet of God asked to curse God’s people. Balaam had the sense to say he would only speak the word which God gave to him. But somewhere in the process, he lost his way. We know this because of context and the interpretation of other Scripture verses.

First the context. God gives Balaam the OK to accompany the messengers to see the king who wants to hire him, but He says Balaam must only speak His words. On the way, an angel comes out to kill Balaam. Say what?!?

Clearly, something happened between God giving His permission for Balaam to go and the angel waiting in ambush. I can only surmise that Balaam lost his way and planned in his heart to speak words God did not give him to speak.

As it turned out, Balaam’s faithful donkey saw the angel, three times, and saved him by refusing to pass within the angel’s reach. Who knew an angel was limited in such a way that a donkey could thwart his intentions?

At any rate, Balaam arrived at the spot where he met the king. Three times this monarch asked Balaam to curse the people of Israel and three times he blessed them instead. But his story doesn’t end here either. Apparently after delivering God’s blessing, he then advised the king how he could trip up Israel. This we know from other scriptures interpreting the original story, culminating with Revelation 2:14b.

You have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.

I’d say Balaam lost his way. I’d say Jonah lost his way. I’d say the fictitious prophet Zephaniah lost his way when he renounced the gift God had given him because of the bitterness and anger and doubt and despair that filled his soul.

Other prophets faced similar depression, if you will. Elijah, after triumphing over the 450 prophets of Baal ran off when he received the message that Jezebel was going to kill him. He hid and in the process cried out to God bemoaning the fact that he was the last (he thought) to believe. He simply wanted to die.

God responded by giving him a break, a companion, a promise, and a vision of the future.

Jeremiah was another depressed prophet. In fact he is called the weeping prophet. His emotional condition was a mixed bag, I think. He did feel forlorn because of his circumstances. He was targeted for death, after all, because he was prophesying that Judah would face consequences for their sin. But he also lamented for his nation. He knew that the exile was coming. He counseled the king to repent, to surrender, knowing that this would spare Jerusalem and save many lives. How each passing day of disobedience must have grieved his heart.

Clearly Jeremiah, though pushed to the limit, did not lose his way.

It’s an interesting study, I think, to consider why one gifted man of God would lose his way and another of like stripe would not. The Telling is a tale about one who did lose his way. There’s much in Zeph’s background that explains why he made the choice he made, but there’s enough there to make me wonder, was he in fact a man gifted by God or a man used by God? Is there a difference? I think so. God can use even the rocks of the field to give Him praise, but He called twelve men to come and follow Him.

Published in: on September 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 2  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 1

I find it ironic that the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring back-to-back books dealing in a fictitious way with very real spiritual entities. In August the subject was make-believe angels and here in September our featured book The Telling by Mike Duran deals with make-believe demons.

In some ways The Telling is more controversial, in my opinion. Whereas there was little resembling Biblical angels in Eye of the Sword and hardly any mention of God, The Telling refers often to prayer, faith, prophecy, the Bible, and God. And fallen angels. In fact the physical appearance of these fallen angels fits the Biblical description of certain angels found in several passages (see for example Ezekiel 1:19 and Revelation 4:7).

But there is a departure with what these fallen angels/demons are capable of doing. In Scripture they are described over and over as possessing a human and being “cast out,” implying, of course, that they are in. The pretend demons of The Telling act in an entirely different way. They, in fact, are not your run-of-the-mill demons operating in rebellion to God, but they have broken free from God’s confinement of them–also a pretend event since it would be pretty impossible to break free from omnipotent God.

So the question comes up again: how OK is it to portray real beings in a fictitious way? Some might compare this kind of portrayal of the supernatural to that of humans as good rather than sinful. Or immortal rather than mortal. Or capable of shedding the human body in order to imitate a supernatural spirit rather than joined inextricably, body and soul and spirit.

In other words, does a Christian writer anchoring his story in reality (as opposed to creating a fantasy realm) have a responsibility to convey the supernatural truthfully, reflecting what Scripture says? How much leeway is there for the imagination?

Frank Peretti was one of the first contemporary novelists who explored the spiritual world using his imagination. Reportedly, he had no intention of showing demons as they actually are, if for no other reason than that Scripture is largely silent about the appearance of “unclean spirits.”

We know what they believe (that God is One–and it makes them shudder). We know they are the object of spiritual warfare, that they possess people, that they can produce supernatural feats, that they recognize who Jesus is. We do not know how they look or even if they can be seen. At various times Scripture records people seeing angels. I don’t recall an incident in which they saw evil spirits.

So how should someone read a book like The Telling which portrays demons as real, with the capacity to take from a human and acquire a body? It’s fanciful, though couched in the context of a man wresting with his faith and his calling. Can readers embrace the one and dismiss the other without the two becoming entangled? And if they mistake error for truth, is the author responsible or the reader?

Do novels need disclaimers these days–the events you are about to read are fictitious; any similarity to actual events or people is purely coincidental.

I suppose we should also discuss whether the label “Christian” adds a particular burden of truthfulness to a novel.

I’ve lobbied for the distinction between truth and Truth in fiction–the former portraying the human condition truthfully with no attempt at presenting the greater spiritual Truth, whereas the latter aims to incorporate both. But what about a novel that portrays some spiritual Truth on the way toward addressing the human condition truthfully? Does some Truth negate the inclusion of the imaginative that might be mistaken for more Truth?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

I’d also recommend you visit other CSFF members participating in this tour for The Telling (links below, with a check mark linking to a tour article). I suspect this subject might be visited by one or two others.

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