Saturday, February 28, 2009


As kith and kin already know, I don't have cable / satellite / nifty TV, so I catch up on some shows via their online episode players or by DVD rentals.

I've been wanting to see Eureka -- find out what everyone else already seemed to know -- but my attempts to watch it online have been interrupted, or the player would be less-than-stellar in its performance, and every time I checked the video store, there was always Season Two on the shelf, but no Season One. Not this weekend, my first full weekend off in weeks. Whoo Hoo! Aside from performing necessary chores (laundry's underway, for instance), I've been a science fiction couch potato for the past couple of nights and the first part of today, and now I'm a Eureka freak.

I'm always late to the dance, but I get there. Eventually.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Continuing the Discussion

The past couple of posts have considered the job of a fiction writer, and how views or beliefs can affect the writing.

I'm cheating a bit on this post, by borrowing excerpts of recent comments, but -- to borrow something else, in this case a cliche -- why re-invent the wheel?
We all write about ourselves regardless of the precautions we take not to do so. Just as our bodies betray us with physical cues and tics when we lie, our writing betrays us with the words we use. Others who know us can see the threads. On the other hand when an agent or editor asks an author to go outside the parameters of his established mores, we can also see the artificialness of the inserted passages. - Texican
As a modern writer who has both a yen for storytelling and personal faith, perhaps that is the best way to approach it. Instead of overt ham-fisted attempts at proselytizing via fiction which will be quickly sniffed out and spurned, perhaps this audience is best reached when we grow so close to our God that echoes of the real world overflow into our fiction just as echoes of Amber, the one true world, were found everywhere in Shadow in Roger Zelazny's works. Save sermons for Sunday morning, but let the stories be stories. If there is any truth to be found, let it seep through every nook and cranny, an artistic, winsome, overflowing of imagination and literary craft. - Phy
I like the idea of telling a story first and letting any 'message' overflow from there organically. If the Message outweighs Story, I'm more the likely to fall out of the project and go read something else. But if a truth presents itself from the text, from the story, without any apparent agenda on the part of the writer, well, that's the magic, isn't it? - Phy
You commented once about how my own personality could be present in both the light and dark characters in my fiction. I think that we, as writers, do deal with our bogeymen through the characters in our novels, novellas, poetry, and short stories...I've always felt a convincing story was one that included your valid emotions. - Jade
Regardless of a writer's faith or lack thereof, why must there be an either / or: "acceptable" work, or writing? "Real" literature, or genre stories? "Serious" literature, or "commercial" fiction?

Amazing Grace, when William Wilberforce says he's caught between doing the work of God and doing the work of government, one of the abolitionists at the dinner table says, "We respectfully submit that you can do both."

Chariots of Fire, after his sister expresses her concerns about his athletics getting in the way of his missions work, Eric Liddell tells her, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."

None of us are only one thing, nor do we have only single interests. That's what makes us humans intriguing creatures: All those internal conflicts and desires make for great story fodder.

We cannot live other people's lives, nor can we write other authors' stories. We can only write the stories that are in us, and be true to them. As Tex stated above, it's usually easy to tell when a piece has been turned into a contrivance to advance an agenda.

My advice, with a nod to the Bard: To the story be true.

Or, with a nod this time to a song from another era: Let it be.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Two Cents

I posed a question in the last post--"What is the job of a fiction writer?"--but had to let the question sit for a couple days. Blame it on the day job. Nearly 90 hours in a week and a half, and I'm tuckered out. Slept most of Sunday, and now I'm disoriented. Ever get that way?

Anyway, back to the point.

In my small corner of the world, there's been discussion about the role of a Christian writer, but that was countered with the goals of secular writers, and then there was the question, "Why are we even talking about this?" Good question.

Several years ago, I used to meet for weekly critique sessions with a writer almost four decades older than I am, and with far different goals with his fiction. He felt the compulsion of time. He had stories to tell, and he wanted me to help him tell them. Unfortunately, though we could respect each other's perspective, ability, and chosen genre, we were not good writing buddies. That, and we each had issues.

When I asked him why all his main characters were alcoholic loners, he said, "Maybe I'll start writing about something else when I'm done writing about this."

So, perhaps some writers use writing as therapy, a way to work through fictional versions of themselves, their problems, their questions, and perhaps find an answer they can use in the real world.

This same writer, however, said he had the ability to write from the perspective of a character whose beliefs ran counter to his own, and he showed me a sample. The character was me, but the tone--the same as the tone in much of his other work--was bitter, snarky, superior, and the perspective he assigned me missed me by a mile.

Which gives rise to another question: How divorced can a writer be from his work? I don't think artists of any stripe can be distanced from their work. They're invested in it. Their fingerprints, sweat, blood, and DNA are all over it. How it's formed is a direct result of how they think, reason, put puzzles together, pull threads apart--and why.

"But with distance comes objectivity!"

Objectivity doesn't necessarily require distance. It just requires honesty. An objective writer can look at his work and see the flaws, the ones that go beyond goofed-up grammar or misspelled words. He can see the repetition of traits that make characters flat and predictable (boring); the gaping holes in the plot; the misplaced or missing details; the rambling descriptions of minutiae that don't move the story forward; the authorial intrusions that overlay the story with his own social, political, religious, and philosophical beliefs. He can recognize when his fiction moves from entertainment to sermon.

I think I'm gonna hang this on my wall: "Thou shalt not promise a novel but deliver a personal manifesto."

I believe fiction not only can but should heal, inform, entertain, reveal, tell the truth, challenge, confront, intrigue, but the writer's overarching goal should be the telling of a story.

This post isn't as focused as I intended when I started it, but that's probably because I'm still unfocused (only been awake a little less than an hour). Got an opinion? State it. I'm gonna go get some more rest.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Posing a Question

The day job has been overwhelming my time, which is why my posts for the recent CSFF Blog Tour were composed a few days ahead of schedule. Due to changes in the local Boys & Girls Club photography contest, I have more to do and a month less in which to do it, so I've been bringing work home, easily adding ten hours to the work week. That translates to little reading and even less writing this week.

Spurred by the posts of fellow writers -- Steve Rice, Rebecca Miller, Marcus Goodyear -- a question arose in my mind during the recent blog tour: What's the job of a fiction writer, regardless of that writer's religious or philosophical bent?

I have to get back to work, but I'll return to this question -- and probably ask more, because one good question deserves another. =0)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cyndere's Midnight - Day 3

Though this post won't publish till February 18, I'm composing it a few days earlier, having just finished reading Cyndere's Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet.

Happily, the book finished better than I expected when I was foundering among earlier chapters, and I'm glad I stuck with it. I might even track backward in time and check out Aurelia's Colors, the first in the series.

The "Beauty and the Beast" theme is only one in the book, but it's the backbone. Beautiful or beastly behaviors and attitudes are exhibited in unlikely people, adding interest to the tale, and some character truths are not revealed until the end.

I didn't really connect to many of the characters in Cyndere's Midnight, but I'm interested in following Jordam the beastman's story, and the ale boy's, and would like to see them figure prominently in the third book of the series, Cal-raven's Ladder (the title of which I read somewhere I can no longer recall).

However, I know the deftness required in weaving together the many strands of a large tale, and how certain characters can overtake the pattern. There are a couple characters in my fantasy novels that some readers want more of, but those characters cannot carry the burden of the plot; they are the binding at the edges, not the whole cloth.

So, back to Cyndere's Midnight: I recommend it to readers who have either read Aurelia's Colors or who have the patience to wait for the good stuff. They will be rewarded.

For other insights and opinions, visit the blogs listed in the sidebar, under the "CSFF Blog Tour Participants" header. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cyndere's Midnight - Day 2

Yesterday, I posted my first impressions of the second book in Jeffrey Overstreet's Thread series, Cyndere's Midnight. Today, the topic is favorites.

My favorite character in the story is the ale boy. He is faithful, courageous, hard-working, an anonymous child doing necessary things. He reminds me of the main character in Ladyhawke, "Philipe the Mouse" (Matthew Broderick) who was also prone to talking to himself.

Next in favor is Jordam the beastman, enthralled by Aurelia and her colors, and struggling against the beast he is.

In Chapters 15 and 16 ("A Royal Scrubbing" and "Bel's Request"), the characters of the ale boy and the beastman are revealed or challenged through their interaction with Cyndere, and--since I've been listing what I like--these two chapters are my favorites so far. After reading several chapters that either slogged or were filled with events that might have seemed less random if I had some notion as to the rest of the story (perhaps the one I missed by not reading Aurelia's Colors), 15 and 16 actually grabbed me and kept me with their dialogue, action, sensory details, background information, and cohesion.

Then, in Chapters 17 and 18 ("Shelter" and "The Watcher and the Ruined Farm"), Jordam and the ale boy meet again and travel together, and Jordam is faced with a dilemma: turn his back on his brothers and go with the boy, or surrender the boy and remain with the only family he has, twisted though it is. So the beastman comes up with a plan.

I'm a couple more chapters in, and my hope in the story is renewed.

For other perspectives on Cyndere's Midnight, check out the other blogs listed under "CSFF Blog Tour" in the sidebar.

And to get Overstreet's perspective on a variety of topics, visit his journal.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Brief Review - Martian Child

Finally saw Martian Child, starring John Cusack and Bobby Coleman as the adoptive father and son. It came out with little fanfare, didn't stay long in local theaters, and I read only one or two reviews about it, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I'm glad I picked up a used copy of the DVD--and for a mere $5.

It's about a boy named Dennis who claims to be from Mars, and about the widowed science fiction writer who adopts him. It's a quiet, sideways little film about family, love, and acceptance. And science fiction in many forms. Highly recommended.

Cyndere's Midnight - Day 1

Cyndere's Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet is the featured novel in the February Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour. Cyndere's Midnight is the second in The Aurelia Thread series, the first of which is Aurelia's Colors, both published by WaterBrook Press, under the Random House umbrella.

The Thread books have intriguing, attractive covers, always good when trying to drag readers' attention away from all the other possibilities on the bookstore shelves. In his blog on, Overstreet states the following:
Many of you have asked "Why was this categorized as 'Christian fiction' in the bookstore?" My answer: I don't know. I'm grateful that some bookstores are shelving it in the general Fantasy/Science Fiction section, because it isn't "Christian fiction." It's fiction. It's fantasy. I'm always pleased when I see it shelved in the same section of the store where you'd find books by my favorite fantasy authors: Patricia McKillip, Guy Gavriel Kay, Mervyn Peake, Robin McKinley, Frank Herbert, and... of course... Professor Tolkien. In fact, one of my primary motivations in writing fantasy is to offer a "thank you" to those authors who have inspired me so much.
I'm with him. I may be a Christian, and there may be Christian themes in my work as a natural part of who I am, but I want readers--any readers, regardless of their system of beliefs--to enjoy my stories because they're good stories, not because they're sermon material.

Before Cyndere's Midnight, I hadn't read Overstreet's work, so I didn't have any expectations except those that any avid reader does: Tell me a good story.

I opened my copy and saw a map--gotta love maps!--with an interesting scape and cool names, then I read the intriguing prologue, the first chapter that introduces the reader to Cyndere and her husband, among other characters, and was pleased and hopeful that this was a book I'd read in one sitting.

That was several days ago. As of the writing of this post (February 11), I'm just over 100 pages in, I'm distracted, and I'm bored. The writing is good--the man knows how to compose a poetic sentence or construct a compelling image, and there are characters I want to know better--but I think I've found a writer who suffers from one of my failings: a literary game of Sardines, cramming too many characters into too small a space.

I don't know who to care about, or why. There seems to be a lot of backstory, too, but little of it that we get to see, and there are gaps in the action; we're told later what happened, but we don't get to experience it. Perhaps some of it was covered in Aurelia's Colors, in which case readers who are familiar with that novel may not be bothered at all by what I perceive as missed opportunities.

In an effort to find out if it's just me and not the book, I did a little reading-up on other readers' reactions. There is a large amount of glowing commentary on the novels, but there are a few less-than-overwhelmed readers whose reviews let me know that I'm not alone in wishing the story had a tighter focus.

All is not lost. I'm going to continue reading in hope that there are rewards waiting for the patient reader.

Check out other opinions and reviews at the blogs listed below:
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Rachel Briard
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Wade Ogletree
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Alice M. Roelke
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Jill Williamson

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fiction v. Journalism

In junior high, I worked on the school newspaper. Teachers and friends thought I would turn my interest in writing toward nonfiction. In their opinions, fiction was fun, but journalism, that was a career. However, "just the facts" didn't interest me as much as creating entire worlds from the cloth of imagination. Still, I tried.

In my mid-twenties, I returned to college and freelanced as a human interest (features) writer for a local paper that was also a local joke due to poor reportage and even worse typesetting. Once, when I asked the editor about a story I submitted that, when published, was missing an entire paragraph critical to the piece, she shrugged it away, saying we worked for a small paper, she was overworked, and she didn't have time to proofread everything before the publishing deadline.

When I consulted with my first interviewee on the final draft of an article, checking my facts and his quotes, I was scolded by the editor for breaking a cardinal rule of journalism by giving the interviewee a chance to change what he originally said. I started the article with a quote rather than a fact-filled opening sentence, and wrote too many words, expecting her to edit out what didn't fit, and basically broke more rules than a journalist should. I crafted a true story, not an article.

I shouldn't have sold the piece, but she bought it and gave me more assignments. Had she been a different sort of editor, and had I been more interested in creative nonfiction, I might have stayed on, writing about people in our small town, and delving into the rich history of our southern, rural, coal-mining region. For one assignment, however, I couldn't reach the people I needed to interview; repeated phone calls and messages yielded no response. I tried in vain to track down alternate contact information, and when I spoke to the editor, she told me to keep trying. No contact. Her assistant called me on the day the piece was due, asked where it was, started in on how I didn't do my job, and I quit.

Strangely enough, the people who wouldn't take my phone calls promptly answered hers, and a tiny announcement--sans interview--appeared in the next paper.

In the years since, the newspaper has improved. There's a new editor but the same assistant, the last time I checked. Last year, I considered going back. My articles did get a lot of positive feedback, and people used to stop me at church or in the store, telling me how much they enjoyed reading positive stories about their neighbors. But I can't seem to take that step--going back.

Pride? Probably. Disinterest? Perhaps.

Maybe it's just not my thing.

Some readers consider fiction unworthy of their time, a childish entertainment, but I find fiction a challenge. There are some histories and biographies I've blitzed through as if they were the tensest of thrillers, but that's because they told stories, not just facts. Fiction, however, can take facts and find deeper meanings behind them, can take a desert of data and turn it into an oasis.

My writing skills are nowhere near where I want them to be, but I hope that someday readers will open my books, settle down in their favorite chairs, and disappear into rousing good tales.

Beats "who, what, when, where, why, how" any day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A little heavy-eyed from lack of proper sleep, but I've been carrying around paper and pen, scribbling ideas, trying to keep a science fiction piece "real" while maintaining the action, and looking for a "sense of wonder" moment that will fit with the story.

I've also been reading The Knife Thrower, a collection of strange but wonder-filled short stories by Steven Millhauser. I'll read a story, then may not pick up the book for days, but I'm always studying the words of writers whose work challenges me, either because it makes me think, or because it's so well done that I want to find its secret.

To be honest, I don't usually find the secret. I'd have to think the way the writer thinks, make the choices the writer makes, and that's just not going to happen.

When I edit or critique a manuscript, I do have to enter the author's mindset as much as possible, because any changes or suggestions I make must enhance his/her vision, not mine.
Sometimes, when reading an already published piece, it's hard for me to let go of the inner editor and just read a story for itself.

Recently, a piece of my own fiction hit publication before it was truly ready. As I read it in its final form, I wished I could take it back, get a do-over, but the words are out there, and I have to let them go.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


My momma taught me proper manners, how to say please and thank you, but outside of a small circle of friends and fellow writers, I haven't made a habit of telling other writers I appreciate their work. Not that I don't appreciate it, but it hasn't occurred to me until recently that it's important to let that appreciation be known. I've been making an effort.

A couple guys whose recent science fiction stories have caught my attention are Mike Duran and George Walker, authors of "Father Fayad's Curious Compatability Projector" and "No Remorse" respectively, both stories available at Ray Gun Revival. (Duran's story is the second in Issue 48, and Walker's is available in Issue 50.)

Another writer, M.L. Archer, has a thought-provoking story up at Perpetual Magazine--"We can do it"--a scary and not-so-futuristic vision.

"The Mark" by Jade Smith is a vampire tale that I actually enjoyed, and "On Becoming a Cyborg" is an excellent poem by John Nichols. Both can be read over at Fear and Trembling Magazine.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Serial Surprises

So, I'm working on Episode 7 of Thieves' Honor the other day, my thoughts focused on matters of action and dialogue, when I have one of those "out of the blue" moments: Elements which I'd never considered connecting suddenly found each other, drawn together like paperclips to a magnet.

Now I know a little more about why the rebels are rebels, and a portion of the bloody history behind the rejection of certain technology and a return to retro computers. (This story being set in the future, "retro" looks like our tech today.) Always cool when stories start to tell themselves.

Oh, the Vitriol

Due to recent questions of my own, and to a post on Rebecca Miller's blog, I've been doing a little research on books about the evolution vs. creation debate.

My, my, my.

When one reads the comments or reviews about certain books, especially those that dare refute evolutionary theory or call it into question, the acid can kill. Folks who don't buy the myth that evolution is 100% provable and is therefore a law are subject to mockery and declarations of ineptitude, ignorance, and stupidity.

It's as if challenging evolution is so scary that it is met with vitriolic name-calling, the battle position of the weak, of those who are so uncertain of their own belief that they can't handle anyone pushing against it. The bitterness against faith, monotheistic religion, and God only reinforces the weakness.

There is the implication in the ongoing argument that only evolution is real science, despite the fact that it cannot be proven empirically. Any facts or scientific evidence presented against evolution are swatted aside as inaccurate, impossible, the trumped up fallacies of religious zealots.

Seems to me that such ardent debate on behalf of a theory smacks of the faith of a true believer.

A Weird Place to Find a Sermon

I just finished watching the extended cut of The X Files: I Want to Believe. I didn't know what to expect, other than it would be strange. It was, and thought-provoking.

Scully (Gillian Anderson) cannot come to terms with the idea that good might come from working with an ex-priest--that he might help in finding a kidnapped FBI agent and solving a series of murders--because the man is a convicted pedophile.

I don't believe God gives people psychic powers, as suggested by the film, but I do believe He forgives. I don't believe we have to jump through hoops to earn that forgiveness, as also suggested by the film, but I do believe all we have to do is ask (repent).

The priest, Father Joe (Billy Connelly), is subjected to Scully's and an agent's skepticism and verbalized judgments, and he later calls Scully on it: Why, if he cannot judge her, is it okay for her to judge him?

Despite the fact that sin is sin, across the board, we humans categorize it--adultery is better than murder, rape is worse stealing--and yet, at the core of all it, is self. How absurd and self-righteous of us to think "my sin is less sinful than your sin."

I admit, I wouldn't be at ease in the presence of a pedophile, even one who claimed to be forgiven and that God was using him, yet I am faced with these questions:

Can God use a liar?
What about Jacob?

Can God use a self-righteous, hateful man?
What about Jonah?

Can God use a murderer?
What about King David?

Can God use an adulterer?
What about the woman Jesus saved from stoning?

Can God use a turncoat?
What about Balaam?

Can God use a thief?
What about a couple of tax collectors, Zaccheus and Matthew?

Can God use someone filled with hate?
What about Saul who became Paul?

Can God use a pedophilic ex-priest, or any one of us sinners?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thieves and Geeks

The Boys & Girls Club where I work was broken into last night, and our safe was ripped off the wall. Someone came with a crowbar and probably other heavy-duty tools, because they did major damage to solid-core wood doors and metal doors. They basically had to tear out the locks and handles, because the doors are too massive to kick down. The thief (thieves) got away with maybe $400, and a flat-screen computer monitor. That's it. However, they did steal the ring of keys for the front desk, but those only open doors inside the Club; unhelpful for someone trying to get inside the building without breaking in. In total, the loss is about $1,500. The thieves did a large about of damage to abscond with so few funds.

We've jimmied the exterior doors closed (the thieves tried a couple different places before getting inside), cobbled together funds so we could do business and make change, and are hoping for better times tomorrow.

The police, however, aren't holding out much hope for finding the culprits unless they try this again. Having worked here for well over a decade, I'm almost as angry about the intrusion as if it had happened at my own house.

On the humorous side, as I manned the concession stand after school this afternoon, I overheard a gaggle of first-grade boys playing a cross between Star Wars and Transformers. One boy kept correcting another's pronunciation ("Obi Kenobi"): "No! Obi WAN Kenobi! Get it right!"

Then, out of the blue, "I'm Obi Wan Kenobi, and you're my robot."

This pronouncement led to a scuffle, in which a "Storm Trooper" was beaten down to the gym floor and refused to stay dead.

Miniature geeks unite!

New Reading Material

Issue #50 is up at Ray Gun Revival. I'm digging the artwork! It's by Inga Nielson from Germany, and it's awesome.

For readers who are following Thieves' Honor, this issue includes Episode 5, "The Game: Shooter". I haven't had a chance to read any of the new stories yet, but I encourage everyone to go check out the magazine.

If you don't do science fiction but you do like horror or sideways tales, check out Fear and Trembling. The artwork there is freakier, and so are the stories.

For the last month, I've become a glutton for books--can't seem to get enough to read. I've just finished The Circle Trilogy by Ted Dekker, and am moving on to Cyndere's Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet, the February book for the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour.