June CSFF Tour Wrap

Poll Run-off added July 3: Please vote in the new poll for one of our top three finishers. It’s a tight race, so every vote counts! You have until midnight (Pacific time) Wednesday.

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Original Post:

I hope regular visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction take the time to read some of the other blog posts about the CSFF Blog Tour June feature, Vanish by Tom Pawlik (Tyndale). We had over 30 blog sites participate and over 50 posts discussing the book.

One blogger referred to CSFF as a large virtual book club. I love it! That’s really what we are. We discuss books. Particular books—the ones in the genre we prefer.

The thing is “the genre we prefer” is really three genres force-fed into one. Fantasy is a world (literally—and pun intended 😉 ) apart from science fiction, which is a completely different animal from supernatural suspense (horror). Nevertheless, we band together and feature them all. Sci fi writers Brandon Barr and Steve Trower, for example pitch in and post about YA fantasy or adult supernatural suspense.

And the amazing thing is, we discover there are books that we would not have thought to pick up except for the tour, but that spellbindingly engage us. In other words, the tour, though it is genre specific, expands our reading selection.

Having said all that, let me introduce you to the bloggers who are eligible for this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger award:

And now, you have the opportunity to vote on the one blogger you think most deserving of the award:

    I almost forgot to mention – you have one week to vote.
Published in: on June 25, 2009 at 12:11 pm  Comments (5)  
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CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3 – Themes in Vanish

Today is the final day in the CSFF Blog Tour for Tom Pawlik‘s debut novel, Vanish. Check out what the other bloggers are saying by clicking on the post links (check marks) next to the list of participants below my interview with Tom.

As far as I’m concerned, this is my most important post of my three tour-related articles. While I find a discussion of writing techniques and the enjoyment factor and the viability of Christian horror (supernatural suspense) interesting topics, and even necessary, I continue to believe that WHAT a book has to say is the most significant factor, even in fiction.

And happily, Tom has important things he wants to say, as he stated earlier this week in an interview with blog tour participant Grace Bridges:

I don’t think of myself as writing a parable, but I do want to communicate spiritual truths through the story.

    * * * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * * *

So what are the spiritual truths that Tom is communicating in Vanish? There are a number, but the ones that jumped out at me are ones I don’t hear a lot of people talking about these days.

When was the last time you heard a sermon about hell? Or judgment? Or life after death? In eras gone by, these topics were regulars from the pulpit. Today, not so much.

And yet Truth hasn’t changed. There is life after death. There will be judgment. And hell is an actual place prepared for those who turn their backs on God.

These are the themes I saw as central to Vanish, and I have to say, About time. For far too long, we Christians have sat on our hands as false teaching has seeped in our midst—the kind of teaching that says God loves his creation so much he would never do anything so opposed to love as assign anyone to eternal punishment. After all, God is not a wrathful tyrant sitting up in heaven waiting to torture as many people as he can, for surely a god who would assign people to hell would be that kind of god.

Like all false teaching, there is an element of truth in this line of thinking. God is a God of love. No, that’s actually incomplete. God is Love. He is not a tyrant. He does not delight in torturing people.

But to think of God as ONLY love is also to limit Him. He reveals Himself to be a jealous God. Jealous! Not something we normally think of in association with God. He is also just. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there will in fact be a day of judgment in which people who rejected God will be held accountable. Such accountability includes punishment.

In a number of parables, Jesus concluded with lines like this:

Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13)

So what does all this have to do with Vanish? In today’s culture, story has again asserted itself as a significant purveyor of truth. While I still believe we need good sermons about the reality of the afterlife, judgment, and hell, I also think stories like Tom’s go a long way to showing the reality.

The final question is, how faithful to Truth is this story? I’ve actually changed my mind since yesterday.

First, this story, unlike C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, is about people who are yet alive. In the imagined world of Vanish, the characters are conscious only of their spiritual existence, though they see it as if it were their physical world. As far as I know, there’s nothing in Scripture about the spiritual condition of a person in a coma. Consequently, however Tom wants to portray that state, as long as the story doesn’t fall victim to some other lie, should be admissible speculation.

From my reading, I’d conclude Tom is interested in revealing Truth, not diluting it.

Second, I thought to object to the activity of the demons. One of the false beliefs about Satan, as I pointed out in “Satan’s Favorite Lies,” is that he is the king of hell. He is not. Hell is the place God has for his eternal punishment, and not his personal fiefdom away from God’s authority.

Thinking along those lines, I questioned the demons’ pursuit of Conner, Mitch, Helen and the others. But a look at Scripture, shows that demons are all about destruction. In the New Testament they threw people into fires, caused a herd of pigs to rush to their destruction, made a man cut himself and become so violent people tried to chain him up but couldn’t. In the Old Testament, a demon enraged King Saul so he tried to kill David, and so on. Throughout the Bible, demons consistently aimed to bring destruction.

Plus we know from the Bible that Satan is the enemy of our souls. Why, then, in fiction wouldn’t demon portrayals be pursuing near-death people? Chomping at the bit, so to speak, thinking these individuals were about to seal their own fate for eternity. And, in fact, desirous of helping them on their way.

It’s a chilling picture, and dark, as a number of tour bloggers commented, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And it’s a truth we have stopped teaching very often, one our culture no longer believes. Maybe a book like Vanish or it’s sequel Valley of the Shadow will help readers come to grips with these spiritual realities.

Published in: on June 24, 2009 at 11:51 am  Comments (6)  
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CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2 – A Review of Vanish

Vanish coverVanish, the June CSFF Blog Tour feature written by Tom Pawlik, is an adult supernatural suspense novel. Those of you who hang around here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction are probably rolling your eyes. (I need to come up with some short, snappy way of referring to this little blog. ACWoF just doesn’t do anything for me) Why the eye roll? others may wonder. Because I’ve said often enough, supernatural suspense is not my genre of choice. Yet I end up reading far more of it than I care to because it’s lumped in with fantasy in the “speculative” category.

Except, this time, I am happy my involvement in CSFF spurred me to read Vanish.

The Story. I can’t tell you much. 8) Even giving you the genre feels like I’m spoiling the story. This is one you need to experience sans spoilers. If you haven’t read Vanish yet and plan to take a peek at other CSFF posts, STOP READING IMMEDIATELY if you see a spoiler alert. Too much information will indeed ruin this story. I say this knowing full well that tomorrow I plan to discuss something important that Vanish has made me think about, and of necessity I’ll give spoilers. You are warned!

So what can I tell you? The main character Conner Hayden experiences the strange sensation that he’s being watched, until one evening when he sees an odd storm cloud, then passes out … or goes to sleep. He doesn’t really know. But when he awakens, everyone he knows is gone. No cars on the road. No one answering the phone. Only static on the radio. No TV reception. Stores are empty.

The story, then, is about Conner trying to figure out What Has Happened, and about how What Has Happened affects him.

Strengths. Intrigue! Intrigue! Intrigue! And Suspense in equal measure. Yes, Tom really has written a story that will have you guessing and wondering and worrying and fearing. And maybe in the end, hoping.

I hesitate to say this, but I think this book could be classified accurately as Christian horror. I have to think that one of Tom’s intentions was to scare people. And notice, I put this down as a strength. Hmmm.

At the same time, this is not a blood-bath kind of book. The real fear is generated by the unknown. I think Tom did an outstanding job feeding just a bit of information at a time, gradually increasing the fear factor.

Weaknesses. I didn’t feel a strong connection with Conner at first. So when things started to happen, I didn’t care deeply. Later I came to care, but I think the story would have more impact if I cared more deeply. If the sequel, Valley of the Shadow (which couldn’t have a more distinct cover from Vanish), is the story I think it is, then I’ll already have a connection to the character.

There’s also a theological issue that comes into play. It’s one of those tough things to sort through when writing Christian speculative fiction. How much must we pay attention to theology if we are using our imagination? I’ve said before, when we write about what is real, even if it is real in the spiritual world or in Biblical history, we are obligated to stay within the bounds of that which has been revealed. Within those bounds, I think we can speculate. (For example, a story about angels must be true to what the Bible says about angels, but a lot has been left unsaid, so I think we can speculate as long as we aren’t contradicting what the Bible says).

As I think about Vanish, I’d say there is a theological problem towards the end, but I didn’t find it off-putting or utterly misleading. Am I splitting hairs to say this is a problem? Maybe.

One of my favorite books is The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, yet many Christians clack their tongue at such a work that seems to suggest man gets a second chance at heaven after he dies. Well, I don’t think that’s what Lewis was saying in The Great Divorce. My theological criticism of Vanish may be as empty for the same reason.

You can be the judge tomorrow, because that issue will be in the forefront of my post.

Recommendation. For those who love suspense and especially supernatural suspense, this is a must read. For anyone who likes a captivating story, I highly recommend Vanish.

Don’t forget to check out the other bloggers (listed below my interview with Tom) posting about this book. I particularly recommend Phyllis Wheeler’s review and possibly the best ever introduction by someone who hasn’t yet read the book posted by Fred Warren.

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 12:27 pm  Comments (9)  
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Author Interview – Tom Pawlik

Tom who? you might be saying. Rightfully so. Tom Pawlik is a fairly new author. His debut novel Vanish won the 2006 Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest and was subsequently published in 2008 by Tyndale House Publishers.

It just so happens that the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Vanish this month, though Tom’s second novel Valley of the Shadow just came out. Much better, as far as I’m concerned, to introduce readers to the beginning of a series instead of jumping into the middle. Readers would definitely miss out if they didn’t experience Vanish first.

All that being said, I was able to ask Tom a few questions about his writing.

RLM: How did you conceive of the premise for Vanish and its follow up, Valley of the Shadow?

    TP: The basic premise grew out of a dream I had several years back. I’m not sure about other authors, but I get a lot of weird ideas from dreams. Then I spent the next couple of years developing the story line before submitting it to the CWG [Christian Writers’ Guild] contest.

RLM: You are among friends, Tom. 😉 I know of more than one speculative fiction writer who got the idea for their story from a dream. In fact, I’m included in that group! 😀 But I’m curious about your involvement in the CWG/Tyndale First Novel contest. What do you think set Vanish apart from the other entries?

    TP: I don’t believe any of the other finalists were in the Speculative genre. I had convinced myself there was no way I was going to win because Tyndale doesn’t typically publish this type of book. Thankfully, they liked it well enough to pick it as the winner.

RLM: Tell us about the editing process. Did your editors at Tyndale ask you to make any major changes, and if so, how hard was that?

    TP: I had always heard how tough the editing process is, but my experience with Tyndale was actually a very pleasant one. We started with a conference call in which they go through a list of items they liked as well as some suggested changes. I had originally written Mitch’s father as a Presbyterian minister and they suggested changing his occupation to avoid that cliche. In the end, I was glad they did because I would have never thought to make him a congressman. And now that change has opened a door for some other, future ideas.

RLM: When you wrote about Conner, Mitch, and Helen’s plight, what kind of reaction were you hoping to generate in the reader?

    TP: I wanted each of the three main characters to be flawed but likable. Even though they each had some dark secret lurking in their pasts, I tried to make them sympathetic characters.

RLM: Sympathetic characters in mortal (or immortal) danger. I wondered if you were hoping to generate fear as much as curiosity or surprise or excitement, but I suppose that’s best left to the reader to discover.

Describe your journey as a novelist. What got you started writing, who influenced you, what are your aspirations?

    TP: Being a novelist has been a life-long dream of mine. After 14 years of pursuing the career through the conventional routes, I had nearly given up until I came across the CWG website and saw the contest. I was absolutely thrilled to win and get my first publishing contract. I was a huge fantasy and sci-fi fan through my youth (and still am). Obviously, Tolkien and Lewis have both influenced me tremendously. I also enjoyed Gordon R. Dickson’s writing, Asimov, Bradbury and others. My goal is to be the premier Christian sci-fi/fantasy author of the twenty-first century. How’s that for an aspiration!

RLM: Hey, another similarity between us! 😀

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Tom. It’s great to get to know another Christian speculative fiction author.

As visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction might guess, I’m not alone on this blog tour. Take some time this week to see what these other bloggers are saying about Vanish (and as I find them, I’ll put √’s with the permanent links to their posts):

Published in: on June 22, 2009 at 11:06 am  Comments (11)  
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