Monday, December 27, 2010

A Brief Commentary: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Let me be frank (unless Frank, of course, objects): I don't like the new film version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

What's Hollywood's problem? A classic tale, beloved by myriad readers, must be so re-written that it becomes not only barely recognizable but so watered-down and shallow that its great themes are pallid versions of themselves, if indeed they still exist?

Of what are the Hollywood types afraid? The faith that inspired the stories? Or do they think they're actually improving a classic series? Poor benighted fools. Arrogant fools.

I enjoyed the new The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as well as the new Prince Caspian, despite unnecessary changes that weakened the story, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Ack. There are no words.

The search for seven swords? Huh? Were the makers envisioning a mash-up with some other fantasy tale?

As for the dragon, his transformation back to regular boy is only given a passing swipe by Aslan's claws -- not even that, really, since the lion never touches the dragon. Not exactly how the story goes, as I recall.

And what about the sacrifice required of the crew -- and gladly made by Reepicheep -- in the story that C.S. Lewis actually wrote? At the end of the adventure, when the lamb becomes a lion, well, those God-fearing filmmakers (and I mean God-fearing in the sense that they have a decided nervousness toward, phobia about, or negative view of God) omitted such an obvious Christian element.

In this current film adaptation -- more like decapitation -- the depth and vision of the story is lost. However, the young actor portraying Eustace Scrubb is spot-on: perfectly annoying, and with excellent comic delivery.

A closer adaptation of all three stories can be found in the BBC television serialization from the late 1980s. No, the special effects aren't slick, and some are -- literally -- cartoons. However, the creatures are creatively done, with either green screen or imaginative costuming and makeup. (Not only is Reepicheep one of my favorite characters, but the costume is perfect.) And, viewing this series, fans of the books are not so prone to throwing things at the screen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

First, the funny:

And now the serious:

He was born in an obscure village,
The child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until He was 30.

He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never went to college.
He never visited a big city.

He never traveled more than 200 miles
From the place where He was born.
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness.
He had no credentials but Himself.

He was only 33
When He died.
His friends ran away.
One of them denied Him.

He was turned over to His enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing,
The only property He had on earth.

When He was dead,
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend.

Twenty centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind's progress.

All the armies that have ever marched,
All the navies that have ever sailed,
All the parliaments that have ever sat,
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that One Solitary Life.

-- Dr. James Allan Francis, 1925

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Never Quite Finished

Novelists know the relief of reaching the last word of the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last page. It's a short-lived relief, because then the hard work begins.

But hard work need not mean unwelcome work. It's in the editing that I can get some of my best ideas.

Lately, however, after doing a spit-and-shine polish on a manuscript that had been cooling for a few months, I realized that material I'd cut a long time ago needed to be re-inserted. The story felt flat without it.

Crazy how that works. In the interest of keeping a plot moving along, I cut a scene here, a line of dialogue there. And then, in the interest of fleshing out the story, making it feel real, giving it depth, I go back and add new material or realize that the old stuff actually works.

Whatever happens -- deletions or additions -- my intention is to serve the story.

In the last few weeks, however, I haven't written much, and editing has been scant. Part of the reason lies in an injury to my right (write?) arm and shoulder just before Thanksgiving. Hard to compose when only one hand is available for typing, or when the pain meds make me fall asleep whenever I sit down.

But, even with physical improvements aiding my typing abilities, I haven't had much to say.

That's part of the composition process: down time. The brain needs a break occasionally. There are any number of articles written and speeches given advising writers on how to pound their way through writer's block, but a good old-fashioned mental vacation may be all that's required.

Life gets crazy, the day job requires extra attention, a clumsy writer falls off a wonky step stool and does terrible things to his shoulder: whatever's going on, sometimes something's gotta give. Though we're fed a fairly steady diet of "butt in chair equals pages written," or "real writers never wait for inspiration to strike," where's the "stop trying to write and just let your brain rest" kind of advice? Could be the precise prescription for improved creativity.

So, with an arm that's healing and allowing greater time at the keyboard, and with a few days off from work, I'm hoping the creativity will kick in, languishing stories will liven, and I'll experience the old familiar high of letting words fly.

Hey, a writer can dream.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Charlatan's Boy - Day 3

** Once again, a late entry. I do apologize for the tardiness. Life and all that, y'know. **

This is the third and final day of the December CSFF Blog Tour featuring Jonathan Rogers' excellent new novel, The Charlatan's Boy.

This post could be called "About a Boy", but that title is already taken, and there aren't any stutter-prone British actors playing roles opposite a quirky kid who just needs encouragement to participate in the school talent show. (That's about all I recall of the movie by that name, and shall never watch it again.). Therefore, "The Charlatan's Boy - Day 3."

Grady ain't pretty.

I could stop there, because his exterior ugliness is central to the story, but it doesn't begin to tell the truth of the tale.

Here's a kid who wants to know where he came from, who looks into the faces of passing strangers, trying to see if they recognize him as their son. He is used as the main attraction in a huckster's traveling road show -- ahem, con game -- and that fraud, Floyd, is the closest thing to a father Grady has known. Grady's ugliness is only skin deep; Floyd can't see his own ugliness, buried as it is underneath pride and a fairly normal appearance.

Grady wants to be honest. He wants to live a steady life, maybe as a farmer or a villager. He's even given a chance to become so when Short Fronie, the proprietress of a public house, offers to be his sort-of mother since all her children are grown and gone. But, even though Grady knows Floyd isn't good for him, even though he really likes Short Fronie and wants to stay, as soon as Floyd tosses a kind word his way, Grady jumps up and follows him, this time into a new scheme to cheat coins from gullible crowds.

As I read the book, I was reminded of my own childhood spent on the fringes of normal. I was that chubby kid who was rarely picked for a team until the pickings were pretty slim. Agility was not my strength; I lost count of how many times I fell down because ankles simply refused to hold me upright. (I even broke an ankle and never knew it until damaging it again as an adult, and the doctor found the old break. Go figure.) Acceptance was a rare thing. Respect? Only for my mind -- I was "the smart kid" in the class, and the jocks would ask for my help with their homework, but I was never invited to be part of the group. The nerds and the geeks were my crew, and I was a little strange even among them.

A year away from 40, I still recall being on the outside, wondering if I really belonged in this world, always on the lookout for a face that told me I was all right.

Grady does indeed find his origins and where he belongs.

Small spoiler (run cursor over this paragraph to read): Readers who recall a favorite character from the preceding three books (The Wilderking Trilogy) will very likely enjoy knowing that a family member appears at the end of The Charlatan's Boy, someone with the last name of Turtlebane. And that's all I'm gonna say! 

I highly recommend this book to young and old alike, and encourage everyone who hasn't done so already to catch the previous books: The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking. Happy Reading!

Meantime, check out other stops on the blog tour by accessing the list here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Charlatan's Boy - Day 2

As mentioned in my post about reaching the end of The Wilderking Trilogy in the weekly Story Time at the Boys & Girls Club where I work, Jonathan Rogers' work is excellent read-out-loud material. And the kids there -- especially middle-grade and junior high listeners -- connected with the stories so much that they acted out the scenes with me, joined the yodeling, and even cried once I read that last sentence of the The Way of the Wilderking.

And I already have plans to make The Charlatan's Boy our next project, which should be good news to the kids who last year really enjoyed meeting all the feechies and civilizers in the original three Corenwald books.

In addition to the rich story and the action, the read-out-loud-ability of the novels comes from the vernacular in which many of the characters speak, reminiscent of the American South, though with some phrases and words that I've encountered nowhere else: civilizer, for instance.

When I read The Charlatan's Boy, I "heard" Uncle Brascal (rhymes with "rascal", and very apt) or Grandpa or Uncle Roger (who wasn't even born in the South) or Uncle Doyle, even Dad, with their Arkansas accents and dry delivery of punchlines, albeit with a twinkle in their eyes, though they were just as apt to laugh before reaching the end of the story. Not gentle laughter, but knee-slapping, foot-stomping, lean forward in the chair, all over the body, tear-crying kind of laughter. So, for me, reading Rogers' work is almost like sitting in the family tall-tale circle on the porch and hearing someone conjure a fable on the spot or embellish a well-known "true" story.

Just as each of the family storytellers had his own style and voice, Rogers imbues his characters with distinctive characteristics: for instance, Short Fronie is warm, snappish, energetic, and caring; Grady is earthy, deep, honest, and a real boy (no relation to Pinocchio); Floyd is flamboyant, creative, dishonest, and abusive.

Rabbit trail: Ever notice how hard con-men and hucksters work in their efforts to make a dishonest living? Intelligent individuals will go out of their way and misuse their minds in order to scalp money from honest folks. It just plain boggles me.

Okay, back to the main path.

Here's an excerpt that has a tall-tale quality:
"You've seen miners. Miners is a heap uglier than farmers. I got a bad feeling, Floyd."
"Well, I don't. Do you know what I see when I look at you?"
"The ugliest boy in the world."
"You just saying that."
...When we got to Greasy Cave the next day, Floyd took enough bets to double our stake if we won -- or ruin us if we lost. I give the Greasy Cavers every bit of ugly I had.
It just wasn't enough.
When Floyd let me out of the box, I was face to face with the ugliest boy I ever seen in my life. How can I describe how ugly this boy was? I might as well describe how wet water is.
His ears was like plates glommed onto the sides of his head, and his teeth stuck out in every direction except straight. His nose must have been six inches long, but it curled up at the end like a pig snout. His eyes was two or three different colors, and his eyebrows met up with the hair on his head, which had so many cowlicks that no two hairs pointed in the same direction. On top of that, he was covered in coal dust. It made your eyes water to look at him.
That boy, Melvern, shows up later:
"So what you been doing since I defeated you last year?" Melvern asked. Besides squinting the one eye, now he was sucking his bottom lip back so it looked like he was more bucktoothed than he really was. I'll say this for the boy: he was making the most of his God-given ugliness.
But Grady's physical ugliness is not only a key to his origins but also a misleading face that hides the beauty of the person inside.

More about Grady and his compatriots tomorrow. Meantime, read more reviews of The Charlatan's Boy by visiting the other stops on the blog tour (list found here).

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Charlatan's Boy - Day 1

** This post is rather late. I usually have these CSFF tour posts ready early in the day, but life had other plans. **

The Charlatan's Boy is Jonathan Rogers' latest novel set in Corenwald, the same island kingdom where The Wilderking Trilogy is set. There is a strange but delightful mix of Europe, ancient Israel, and American Frontier in the trilogy's influences, but this novel has less of an Old World feel and more of the Old West (although the trilogy does have some frontiersman types).
I don't care who you are -- when it comes to knowing where you come from, you got to take somebody else's word for it. That's where things always got ticklish for me. I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.
So speaks Grady, THE WILD MAN OF THE FEECHIEFEN SWAMP! (according to the words painted on the side of a box by Floyd, the aforementioned charlatan) and later THE UGLIEST BOY IN THE WORLD! (until they met a boy who was even uglier).

Over the next couple of days, I'll discuss the story and its unique vernacular, the depth and honesty of the main character and how he sees his world and the people around him, and the family tall-tale spinners that captured my imagination as a kid.

Meantime, check out these other stops on the CSFF Blog Tour:
Sally Apokedak
Amy Bissell
Red Bissell
Jennifer Bogart
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Katie Hart
Bruce Hennigan
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Donita K. Paul
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
James Somers
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hallelujah Chorus at the Mall

I received the following video in an e-mail earlier today, and so am sharing the awesomeness. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Skin Map - Day 3

All good things, as they say, must come to an end. Why, I don't know. It's just what "they" say. So, alas, this marks the final day of the CSFF Blog Tour for Stephen R. Lawhead's new novel, The Skin Map, first in the Bright Empires series.

Sometimes, the final day of a tour is for discussing the things I didn't like about a particular book. Well, just doing that would make this a very short post indeed.

The one thing that dampened the reading experience was the mention, by Cosimo, of evolution as if it were fact. This occurred early on in the book, when he was telling Kit about cave lions, the creatures used by the Burley Men. I am one of those Christians who doesn't believe that the theory of evolution can coexist with biblical Christianity. It's not considered intelligent to reject evolutionary theory as valid science, but I'm not interested in other people's opinions of my intelligence, and I might question whether or not they remember some of their basic school science i.e. the laws of thermodynamics, which present obstacles to the theory. (Just a reminder: laws trump theories.)

A literary aside: The word evolution means change, and is generally used to denote change for the better, just as progress is also often used as a positive word, even though progress is really just movement forward along a particular line, whether going in such a direction is good or bad. While writing or reading, we take the word out of its neutral state and assign it positive or negative connotations. That's what I love about language, how symbols (letters) are assigned sounds, how those sounds are strung into words, and how words can express ideas, those speechless things that dwell in our minds. How cool is that?

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Skin Map is an enjoyable read, easy to follow, intriguing, humorous, and just downright fun.

My intelligence wasn't insulted by over-explaining; ever read those books where you're talking to the page, "Yeah, yeah, I get it. Move on"? This is not one of those.

Some readers have found the storyline hard to comprehend, because it moves from one time to another and there is more than one set of characters to follow, but that was not a problem for me. The characters may end up in various places in time, but their story is always moving forward. As Kit says early in the book, easy peasy.

As for the issue of messing with history by changing it, well, that is addressed, too, as is the idea of whether or not it's possible for the characters to move forward in time. Although the intellectual side of me is interested in those questions, the little-kid-dreaming-of-adventure side of me doesn't really care. Remember those halcyon days of youth when anything was possible, and the more outlandish the tale, the better you liked it? The Skin Map works, I think, because Lawhead handles the wildly impossible as if it were absolutely possible, and he does it with excellent craft. Readers can trust the storyteller to not only tell a great tale, but tell it well.

I highly recommend this book. For other reviews, click here to access a list of more stops on the tour.

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Skin Map - Day 2

Welcome, welcome, welcome to the otherworldly  -- other-dimensionly? -- realm of The Skin Map, first in the Bright Empires series by Stephen R. Lawhead.

This series has the makings of a ripping good yarn. With titles like The Skin Map and The Bone House (just the first two in the series), and then old-fashioned chapter headings, such as "In Which Old Ghosts Meet" and "In Which Dragons Are Not Confined to Statues", Lawhead has created an old-time classic literature feel and welded it to an almost futuristic tale. I'm digging it.

One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind as Kit first joined Cosimo in a new dimension: "Wow. It's like I'm reading the new Treasure Island."

Yup. You read that right. The new Treasure Island.

After all, there's a map -- a tattoed human skin, to boot -- and a treasure hunt of sorts; a young man on a wild and unexpected adventure; a villain able to wear a friendly face (remember how friendly yet how treacherous Long John Silver could be?); exotic settings, even if "exotic" is only in the eye of a bewildered beholder; and then, of course, tall ships and tattoo parlors, though I don't recall any such parlors in Treasure Island, but who cares? It's all in the vibe.

I often skip description because either 1) it bores me, or 2) it's too clunky to read. Not so for The Skin Map. Lawhead writes the descriptive passages well, taking the reader to different times and places with such ease that it's almost as if he's actually been there and is just reporting his travels back to the reader. The story could not exist apart from those details, because the setting and the time periods and the people who inhabit them are integral to the tale. Take this passage, for instance:
Macau sweltered beneath an unforgiving August sun, and the Mirror Sea was calm. The tall ships in Oyster Bay, the few wispy clouds in the sky, the lazily circling seabirds -- all were faithfully replicated in precise detail in their liquid reflections. And none of it evaded the hooded gaze of Wu Chen Hu as he sat on his low stool before the entrance of his small shop on White Lotus Street, above the harbour.
Almost drowsing in his doorway on a hot day, Chen Hu is not just a character inserted into the landscape as a prop. His craftsmanship creates the skin map. That humid, lazy day is important. Something happens to break the stillness.

Earlier in the story -- in Chapter 6, "In Which Kit Acquires an Apostle Spoon" -- three of the main characters share a meal at The Pope's Nose. Kit has never eaten many of the dishes with which he is presented, and some he likes more than others, as Lawhead takes the reader on a gastronomic trip back in time. I confess, as I started that chapter, I had been contemplating what to make for supper; by the time I finished reading it, I'd forgotten about my hunger, and didn't actually get around to eating anything until a few chapters later, when my stomach reminded me there's a difference between imagination and reality.
By the time Kit pushed himself away, his bowl was a slaughterhouse tangle of bones and gristle, and his cheeks, chin, and hands were dripping with grease. He felt as if he might possibly explode from internal pressure, and that, all things considered, this would probably be for the best.
Yeah, we've all been there, some time or another, probably right after a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Interspersed with the well-written descriptions are historical references that also help ground the reader into whichever time and place a particular scene is set: Oliver Cromwell, for instance, or London's Pudding Lane in 1666. Such details lend reality and concreteness to an otherwise fantastical tale, and they also act as a kind of shorthand, implying much about the setting and providing opportunity to further the story.

And I wasn't bored once!

Click here
to access the list of other stops on the tour.

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

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Skin Map - Day 1

Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least, he would have brought an umbrella.

An excellent beginning -- intriguing and humorous -- and the opening lines of Stephen R. Lawhead's The Skin Map. As for the dimensions of the universe, well, that's the story. And, as it turns out, there's more than one.

While rushing to meet his girlfriend but encountering obstacles at (literally) every turn, Kit -- or, Cosimo Christopher Livingstone, to be more precise -- is forced to abandon motorized forms of travel and use his feet instead. In the rain.

The storm begins after he enters an old street in modern London. The street goes on and on, and he is already late, so Kit turns back. It is then that he meets a man who should be dead -- well over one hundred years ago.

And then there is, of course, the one thing the Questors and their adversaries, the Burley Men, are trying to find, if only they can piece it together: a map of all the ley lines, the places where dimensions touch, tattooed on human skin.

The Skin Map draws the reader in with excellent writing, an intriguing premise, gentle and intelligent humor, historical references, appealing characters, detailed settings, and an interesting yarn. And did I mention excellent writing?

Over the remaining two days of the CSFF Blog Tour, I'll discuss other aspects of the novel, the first in Lawhead's new series, Bright Empires. Meantime, check out other stops on the tour:
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Carpe Diem Before It's the Last

I'm not an 8-5, live in the office, punch a time clock type of person.

I can work -- I'm not allergic to it -- but I just don't like to do it according to someone else's schedule.

Yes, I understand the necessity of clocks and calendars and deadlines. But I don't function at my best when my life is governed by them.

Guess I'm like my dad in that way. (Yes, Mother, I said it.) He hates answering to a boss, though, and I don't have a problem with having a boss, as long as I'm not being micro-managed. Give me a task, tell me what the end result needs to be, and give me a deadline. Then leave me alone.

As foolish as this might seem, especially in the current economy, I'm considering asking the executive director if I can work part-time out of my home office, and only report to the Club(s) when it's time to conduct programs for the kids. I've worked a lot of other places, and I've learned how I function best. All the good ideas don't come on a schedule -- I can be working out games or educational activities while I'm driving my truck or mowing the lawn -- and I can be most alert and creative at midnight.

Meantime, there's writing to be done, photographs to be taken, life to be lived. Dreams to be captured.

While still making those tortoise-paced updates to my house so I can sell it, I know I'm kinda stuck with this job. But I keep hearing lately some variation of this:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Wow. What if this is the last day? What have I accomplished?

Thirteen years. It's time for a change.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When Hairy Met Daisy

I meant to post this about a month ago, but kept forgetting -- must be the horticultural romance in the air.

On Labor Day this year, Mom and I celebrated her birthday a few days early by heading to Mount Magazine here in Arkansas. I was in the middle of the crud a/k/a "walking pneumonia", but I was tired of staying in the house, and the weather was perfect, so I packed up some lunch, charged the camera battery, and was ready to go at the appointed time.

At the nature center, we wandered the room, enjoyed the nice view, and read about the various trees and plants that grow on the mountain. And, as is our wont, we saw things in a sideways fashion, making goofy comments but stifling our laughter due to the rest of the crowd present who might not appreciate our absurdity.

So, as we're lifting the little wood and Plexiglass doors and reading the plant trivia written below, this is what I find:
Eastern Daisy Fleabane

daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) -- "grows in areas heavily disturbed by man"

Hairy Hawkweed

hairy hawkweed (Hieracium gronovii) -- "fares well in poor, infertile soil...wild turkeys eat its fruit"

Poor Harry. He gets no love, and what he does have is stolen. As for Daisy, unfortunate girl, she's always being bothered by those disturbed men.

Yeah, it's lame, but when I said, "Hairy, meet Daisy. Daisy, meet Harry," Mom laughed, I snorted, and we beat a quick exit.

Out on the rear balcony, overlooking a pond where some frogs were sitting around the edges, there were more laughs and insane commentary -- I can't recall exactly what we said, but there was the expected twisted remark or two about frogs kissing princesses, and I laughed so much that I almost coughed up a lung (which, if I did, might have sped my recovery).

Then Mom became a bit serious. "I knew we'd have a good time."

And we did.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


In a recent blog post concerning some names in the new young adult fantasy novel, Venom and Song, I mentioned an ancient literary device: kenning, an Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon technique whereby an image was created to replace a single word (noun), and could range from the rather simple two-word hyphenate to a more complex phrase.

Toadeater,  brown-noser, bloodsucker, babe magnet, man-eater, ankle-biter -- politically correct or not, those are all kennings, because they use two words (both nouns) to describe one word (also a noun):
toadeater = toady, sycophant
brown-noser = flatterer (one who ingratiates)
bloodsucker = leech, parasite (one who sponges or preys on another)
babe magnet = car (or anything that is deemed by men to be appealing to women)
man-eater = cannibal, predator, woman (specifically, a woman who preys on men for money or advantage, etc.)
ankle-biter = toddler
That list makes it seem as if all kennings are negative; they are not. So, then, what are some of those ancient kennings that make reading old literature so much fun? You may find a short list on Wikipedia, which includes different forms of kenning. You can also read the poetry and stories, such as Beowulf, the most obvious, or go exploring in modern translations of old Scandinavian and English literature.

Here are examples of kenning from three Anglo-Saxon pieces:
Beowulf (trans. Charles W. Kennedy)
swan-road = water, sea
war-net = mail (armor)
Victor-Scyldings = Danes (perhaps not a true kenning, but cool nonetheless)
Sea-Geat = Beowulf
the shepherd of sins = Grendel
hell-thane = Grendel (at this time, a thane was similar to the later rank of baron)
monster-brood = Grendel's mother
heather-stepper = deer
sea-troll = Grendel's mother

"The Wanderer" (poetic lament from the Exeter Book; trans. Charles W. Kennedy)
gold-lord = king, protector, leader
hallmen = warriors (or companions) who serve the same lord
the Warden of men = God

"The Seafarer" (poetic dialogue from the Exeter Book; trans. LaMotte Iddings)
sea-eagle = gull? (I'm guessing here)
ice-chains = cold, numbness (again, I'm guessing based on the context)
pathway of tides = sea
home of the whale = sea
whale-path = sea
gold-givers = lords, kings
This week, I attempted an activity with the kids in the Creative Writing Club, but their young minds had a difficult time wrapping around the concept of kenning, and I didn't quite know how to teach it. However, here are a few instances when they "got it" -- and the results are pretty good:
bully-defeater = fighter
numbers-enjoyer = student (specifically, a good math student)
crayon-wielder = artist, colorer
joy-bringer = daughter
brain-stretcher = teacher
carp-catcher = fisherman
So, what about you? Think you "ken" do it?

(Ignore my mad laughter -- and I offer no apologies for the bad pun.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Venom and Song - Day 3

This is the third and final day of the CSFF Blog Tour for September. The featured novel is a joint venture of Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper: Venom and Song, second book of The Berinfell Prophecies and sequel to Curse of the Spider King.

Beside me is a lined piece of paper torn from a spiral notebook and covered in pencil-scribbled notes, stars and exes and arrows, crossed-out deletions and crammed-in additions, ideas and thoughts for discussion during the tour. I could talk about themes or story structure or similarities between our real-world history and that of Allyra, but my brain's just not leaning in any of those directions.

(It is, however, enjoying the DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition, which I haven't watched in a good long while.)

Lately, I've stumbled across or been engaged in conversations about "Christian fiction": Although it is categorized by genre, how can fiction be anything but fiction? Is "Christian fiction" considered "Christian" because of its content, or because of its author? What about fiction written by Christian authors and/or with Christian themes or worldview, but published and marketed in a secular venue?

It's old news, but Christian fiction has a reputation (and, in many cases, deservedly so) for preachiness; predictability or a tendency toward the formulaic; shallow thought or forced emotion (characters not being allowed to think, emote, or react as real people might);  and poor craft. 

As another writer said recently, the Bible was the only book written at God's direction. The rest of us? We have to work at it. 

A writerly aside: I'd forgotten that Chawna Schroeder (one of our CSFF Blog Tour participants) had also discussed this topic on her blog recently -- and I'd even left a ranting comment, how's that for memory? She has some good stuff to say, so do go check it out. And please disregard my apparent loss of spelling ability in the comment!

It's an arrogant and lazy writer who thinks his or her words are perfect from the moment of inception. 

Our work should be excellent -- not just so it can be "as good as" or "better than" the work of secular authors, but because our excellence honors God. We should spur one another toward excellence, toward a bettering of our craft. In this, there is no separation of the sacred and the profane -- in the sense that the story is the sacred, and the craft is the profane -- because good craft helps us tell a better story. And good craft gives us credibility. Who cares what your message is if you're not communicating it in such a way that it will be received?

And that's another debate: In Christian fiction, which comes first -- the message or the story? I say story, because who picks up a novel expecting to read a sermon? Let any "message" be organic, a natural part of the story. Let characters be as real as possible. Let the outcome of events turn as they may. Let there be surprises and ugliness and sin and doubt and mistakes. Don't try to force everything to fit a preplanned message.

The purpose of the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour is to promote speculative works by Christian authors, and Venom and Song is certainly that. In it, the Elves -- "the good guys" -- have a dark secret in their history, and it has a direct effect on everything that happens in the story's present.

Who among us hasn't made a mistake that changed life from that moment onward? How many of us are always selfless? Always good? Always acting for the good of others? The Elves aren't ethereal creatures of unalloyed goodness. They possess conflicting opinions, they don't have all the answers, they don't do everything right. The teenage Lords of Berinfell are learning as they go. In imperfection is room for change, for growth, essential to effective characters and, therefore, effective stories.

And mistakes leave room for redemption.

For other stops on the tour, please visit Monday's post, scroll to the end, and click on any of the names in the list there.

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Venom and Song - Day 2

On this second day of the CSFF Blog Tour, we return to the second novel in The Berinfell Prophecies by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper: Venom and Song.

Okay, a few allusions or similarities that hit me while reading the book:

1) the use of the word "flet" (used also by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings to describe the platforms the Elves built high in the trees); 2) "not all tears are evil" (a near-quote of the farewell spoken at the end of The Return of the King, when Gandalf, Bilbo, and Frodo sail away with the Elves); 3) children who are royalty in another world than our own (the Pevensies in The Chronicles of Narnia); 4) names of characters or places that are reminiscent of other stories (Elrain Galadhon, for instance, whose name is an allusion to Caras Galadhon, an elven city in The Lord of the Rings); 5) special training conducted by special teachers for students with special powers (though the obvious modern example is Hogwarts and Harry Potter, there is A Wizard of Earthsea, Wizard's Hall, X-Men, and many, many others, though Venom and Song has a different focus than the control of magic).Hey, there's nothing wrong with paying homage to the great writers who've come before us. I've done it -- am doing it -- in a couple of projects. An homage is not theft nor is it basically re-writing someone else's work in one's own words; it's a nod, the acknowledgment of a fan or a student. Those of us writing new fantasy and science fiction owe much to Tolkien, Lewis, LeGuin, Yolen, and others. For some of us, it's as natural as breathing to tip the hat in our writing. (Pardon the cliches.)But back to Venom and Song--There is some cool originality here, such as the "frakes", Kat's name for the furry, purring, pink-nosed snakes found in Allyra; and there's the training session in which the only way the seven teenage Lords of Berinfell could navigate a dark chamber was by following a restricting set of instructions and relying on each other.Not original and yet always and forever cool: names created by kenning, the Old Norse and Old English tradition of putting together two words to create an image for a single word. For instance, a class of Elven soldiers in the story are the Dreadnoughts; dreadnought means "fear nothing", and is a class of ship,  as well as the term for a thick, warm garment. Perhaps not necessarily true kenning (we don't know what the names are meant to represent), the Lords of Berinfell have some groovy tribal names: Hiddenblade, Swiftstorm, Ashheart, Valorbrand, Nightwing, Oakenflower, Silvertree. And then there's Grimwarden and Goldarrow, their teachers. What's not to like?But what about the story itself? 
Weeeellll, though there were a couple pretty good parts in the first third of the book -- the river ride through the caves, the lordship ceremony, some of the training -- I didn't really get interested until Chapter 15, "The Scarlet Raptor", when a giant bird of prey summons Tommy and Kat to an unexplored region of Whitehall Castle, takes them on an unexpected journey, and a major secret is revealed.To be honest, I skipped entire pages in the first fourteen chapters (and even in a places later in the book) and picked up the action later. It didn't really keep my attention at first, and was often an effort to read -- not because nothing was going on in the story, but because I just didn't care. Though I knew Kat was blue, and there was mention of one of the boys having a temper problem and that Tommy liked puzzles,  aside from the fact that each of the Lords had a different gift, there were no real telling details to help differentiate among the characters, and the teenagers all seemed to have similar personalities. Of course, that might have been deliberate on the part of the authors, since themes include teamwork and reliance on one another. (But I've read a blog or two on the tour that mentioned how different each character is, and how easy it is to tell them apart.)As I mentioned in yesterday's post, my experience might have been different if I'd read the first book, or if I weren't such a curmudgeon. When a writer is coordinating a large cast of characters, sometimes it becomes unwieldy, and in trying to mention everyone, the writer can actually spread the reader's attention too thin. Given too much information, the audience can shut down -- I did. As a result, the tension/suspense can bleed away, leaving scenes flat and uninteresting. In Chapter 15, though, the story narrowed, intriguing events unfolded, and my attention increased.But this book wasn't written for middle-aged folks like me. I work with kids and teenagers who are always on the prowl for good reads, and this series will be on my "Recommended" list, especially when the annual reading contest starts again in January. I've already talked up the series and promised a group of teenagers that this book will be in a drawing to be held in a couple of weeks, and they are all excited. (Free book! And it's a fantasy! How can there not be confetti and stuff?)For other stops on the tour, visit yesterday's post, scroll to the end, and click on any of the names in the list there.
(FYI: Amazon doesn't offer any sample chapters of Hopper's solo work -- The Rise of the Dibor, The Lion Vrie -- but Batson's work can be sampled.) In conjunction with the CSSF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Venom and Song - Day 1

This month's CSFF blog tour entry is Venom and Song, the second in The Berinfell Prophecies, a young adult fantasy series by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper.

Following immediately on the heels of events in Curse of the Spider King, this novel dives right into the action. I haven't read the first book; and, while common thought might be that I would do so before reading the sequel, it was important to this review that I see how well a new reader could pick up the characters and the gist of the story.

A writerly aside: What's the point of a story if the readers can't follow the action? One test of good storytelling is how easily the audience can understand what it's being told. Artistic abstruseness is just pretentious, and is more than likely the high-sounding veneer of a lazy writer.

Now, back to our main programming.

Despite the almost too-hectic and sometimes protracted action -- more is not necessarily more -- and the overwhelming number of characters, the opening scenes of Venom and Song weren't difficult to follow. I liked the idea of the amusement-park-ride-on-steroids that was "the good guys'" journey via an underground river.

As for all the characters, an ensemble cast can keep a story tense and active, make it confusing, or bleed away the intrigue because readers don't know who to root for or don't care about what happens to the main characters. It's a tough task for authors to not only clearly differentiate between characters, but also keep them interesting. Though I didn't really care about this novel's characters at the beginning -- that's probably just the curmudgeon in me -- there's an automatic connection for the target audience: since the seven Lords of Berinfell are teenagers, readers from middle grades through high school will probably have immediate sympathy for the characters and be interested in how their story plays out over the course of the series.

There is violence and some frightening incidents, but there is also friendship and courage, and learning how to live and move forward in unexpected and less-than-ideal circumstances, ones that the characters did not choose. I would certainly let my 12-year-old niece read this book.

 Other stops on the tour:
Brandon Barr
Amy Browning
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Melissa Carswell
Jeff Chapman
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
James Somers
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More Randomness

If you've read the previous post, you'll know the leaps my mostly-asleep brain can make.

This morning, after having fallen asleep (again) on the living room couch, I was jolted by an obnoxious beeping.

Too clear and close to be a car alarm, too rapid to be the phone ringing, it was annoying enough to jar me to semi-consciousness, but no further.

I must have fallen asleep again, because the shrill noise invaded my dream -- which I cannot recall -- until I woke again.

Why. Wouldn't. It. Just. STOP!

"Well," I told myself, "if you'd stop taking pictures--"

Ah. That's when it clicked.

Not the pleasant sliding snick of a camera shutter, but the shrieking beep of the alarm clock.

Someday, I will write a surreal horror story about the assault of a sleeping person by his misunderstood and increasingly belligerent electronics.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Totally Random

This morning, in the early hours, a strident sound brought me to the brink of quasi-consciousness, close enough that instinct took over, and my hand reached up to slap the alarm clock.


Then the sound an instant later.

My hand, of its own volition, slaps the clock again.

A mere second of silence, then RING!

Again, slap clock, get silence.


By this time, my foggy brain realizes the phone is ringing.

I do not rise from my comfy bed to answer the blasted contraption. No, what pops into my head is a totally random thought: "It's a barbecue apocalypse!"

The answering machine kicks on, I hear my tinny recorded voice echoing down the hallway, and I roll over and go back to sleep.

So much for the apocalypse.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Coming of Age and Moving On

Way back, when I was a young writer, I crafted stories in which I wrote about only people I liked who faced down one-dimensional villains, and only included events I wanted to happen, whether or not they fit the story or made for interesting reads. I could write for hours, only "the good parts" kind of stuff, and scorned the notion of writer's block. After all, imagination was not a quantity that could be measured, contained, or lost. It just was. All I needed was pencil and paper.

Ah, the heady days of youth.

And then the critiques came, and the advice, and I retreated. I went from being a wunderkind to being (shock, gasp) just like everybody else.

Instead of being a published novelist by age 16 -- as predicted by at least one English teacher and a crowd of fellow students -- I wandered in the wilderness for almost two decades, writing a smattering of this and a soupcon of that, until I figured that writing fiction was really just a juvenile pursuit that must be put away in favor of more grownup activities, like a career and a succession of (failed) relationships.

Only when my then-boss, and later friend, figuratively shoved me out the door one workday and told me to attend a free one-day writing seminar at the local college did I start to realize that a writer is who I am. Fiction wasn't just a phase, but a way for me to connect with the truth.

When I went through a rough time so dark that suicide seemed like light, writing saved my life.

It helped me sort my thoughts when my parents divorced after thirty years of marriage.

It has been with me through health difficulties that changed how I approach life.

Writing challenged my faith then strengthened it.

So, when I read the Overlords' essays in the last DEP-sponsored issue of Ray Gun Revival, I read the hearts of people I have never met and yet I know, because we walk the same road. (When you read their essays, you'll know what I mean.)

This is an excellent magazine well-done by editors who love the genre, and it shows.

Just because this is the final issue in the current format doesn't mean the quality is at all diminished. There's awesome artwork, as always -- this issue's featured artist is Carl Andrée Wallin, who just happens to be from Sweden, the country of origin for my mother's side of the family.

And then there is a handful of short stories and a couple serials. Sadly, M. Keaton's entertaining Calamity's Child ends with this issue; Thieves' Honor, my series, will continue on with Episode 13 in the new incarnation of RGR.

Aforementioned episode is still being written. I promise to include heroes who actually have to overcome obstacles, and villains with several dimensions, but I'll still strive to write only the good parts.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Discipline? Can You Give Me Context? Maybe Use It in a Sentence?

As a writer, I have no discipline.

That could mean many things:
1) I don't have a specialty.
2) I can't control my hands while typppppppping.
3) I write all over the place, and prefer markers on freshly-painted walls.
4) Uniquely constructed sentences I make.
5) 5:00 in the morning is meant for sleeping, not writing. (Unless, of course, one is on a creative spree, and has not yet been to bed.)
6) Focusing on only one project at a time is imposs- Squirrel! (Squirrel Removal in 12 Easy Steps -- HI-larious!)
7) I give great writing advice but rarely follow it. (Write to the end then edit.)
8) I find all sorts of activities that keep me from writing, when writing is all I really want to do.
9) An outline is not the Ten Commandments, and is a lot of hard work for something I'm just going to ignore anyway.
10) Planting butt in chair and creating is not something I generally do on command. In fact, there are very few things I do on command, and even then I might pause to think about it.

And the list goes on, but I'll end it there. (End not to be confused with aforementioned butt.)

Yesterday, I sat on the couch, felt-tip pen and scrap paper in hand, stared into space while a DVD miniseries adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel played in the background, and wrote a couple good pages of material. All rough, of course, but solid.

As I wrote, I thought it was brilliant.

Then, some time later, long after the pen had been capped and I was no longer under the heady influence of Sharpie fumes, I read it again.

Meh. As I said, rough but solid. I can work with that.

As for discipline, well, that's a concept that looks different to each writer. What really matters is the outcome: What is produced? Regardless of a writer's method -- laptop in the park, legal pad in the coffee shop, scrap paper on the couch -- words must be written. Stories must be told.

Bring on the Sharpie!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

And Now for a Laugh

Alrighty, this has nothing to do with adventures in fiction nor with living the writer's life, but it's a lot of fun:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Favorites - Day 3

This month's CSFF blog tour has caught me at a time when my posts are at the end of the day rather than the beginning -- not the best circumstance, but that's life, eh?

The focus for August isn't a particular novel but the various bloggers' favorite science fiction or fantasy novels written by Christian authors or with a Christian worldview or theme.

My new favorite science fiction novel, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, doesn't necessarily fall into the "Christian fiction" category, but it was my first choice when casting about for an SF title. However, there's another I like, the second in a series (I still haven't gone back and caught the first title): The Personifid Invasion by R.E. Bartlett, part of the CSFF tour back in September 2008. The tour feature that month was not a particular book, either, but Marcher Lord Press, and The Personifid Invasion was one of the first three books published.

The Personifid InvasionI didn't expect to like the novel, but it grabbed me despite my reluctance and the fact that I had to read it entirely onscreen (I'm still a fan of the old fashioned ink-and-paper books); the original review can be read here. And there's a paperback for those readers who, like me, prefer non-electronic books. So, I didn't catch the first part of the story -- The Personifid Project -- but the sequel is easy to follow.

Maybe in a couple more years or so, when the story's faded further back into memory, I might start from the beginning. It's a "thing", and it's the reason I have so many books: Even the classics are fresh when they've spent fallow time on the shelf, waiting to be read yet again.

For other favorites on the tour, check out the links here. You might find some overlap in our lists, but there are some unexpected or forgotten books in the spotlight, as well, and I've already added a few to my "Must Buy" list. Enjoy the tour!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Favorites - Day 2

Blaggard's MoonIt's reader's choice this month on the CSFF blog tour, and it's a bit of a challenge, trying to come up with just a few favorites and not a long list.

Thanks to the tour, I've encountered many excellent new science fiction and fantasy titles; for me, the standout titles are Blaggard's Moon by Bryan Polivka (awesome yarn!), The Enclave by Karen Hancock, Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos, Lost Mission by Athol Dickson, and Vanish by Tom Pawlik. There are also a lot of books I've missed on the tour over the past couple of years, so there's a lot of catch-up reading to be done. Aw, shucks, darn: I have to read. (That's kinda like a kid secretly pleased to be banished to his room, so he can dive under the bed and dig into the boxes of comic books stored there.)

The VisitationIn the 1980s and 1990s, I didn't encounter a Frank Peretti novel I didn't like. Oh, I might avoid one for a bit -- The Oath, for instance, or The Visitation -- but if it was in my sphere, I read it. This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness had a profound impact on me, and I read them several times -- devoured them, actually. But The Oath and The Visitation were too close, too much like my own life, so that the line between fantasy and reality stopped existing. An argument might be made that those books aren't really fantasy, but they are most certainly speculative fiction. The Oath challenges misconceptions of sin and consequences, and The Visitation evaporates "Christian" illusions and false miracles.
The Wounded Spirit ( Leader's Guide )
Shortly after reading that book, someone loaned me a nonfiction volume by Peretti: The Wounded Spirit. Coming right behind The Visitation, it reinforced the truths found there, and literally changed my life. I was not alone. Someone else, a fellow believer, had experienced circumstances uncannily like mine, and his faith had survived.

Some among the church looked askance at my reading material, and many of the elders did not believe fiction (lies) had any place in a good young Christian's library. And the crazy stuff I enjoyed reading actually inspired warnings and lectures. I smile now to imagine what some of those same people might say of my writing!

Yet it is this "questionable" fiction that led me toward Truth, and stoked the fires of imagination.

A list of the other stops on the blog tour can be found here; check out what other bloggers are saying about their favorite Christian science fiction and fantasy novels!