Thursday, June 28, 2007

Give to Give

Yesterday I talked about how the Lord is showing me more and more that it's important to do my work for the right reasons -- that I should be giving to give, not to get.

The following link about a woman who paints to honor our fallen in Iraq exemplifies this concept in a moving way. She's a bit rough around the edges so if that sort of thing bothers you, be ready or don't click the link. You may have already received this in your email inbox, but because her last name is Hancock and she is a painter, I wanted to post it here:

Have a great weekend

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Casting Your Bread on the Waters

Lately the Lord's been dealing with me on the subject of casting your bread upon the waters. I first heard that phrase from Ecclesiastes 11 related to writing years ago at Mt Hermon where a presenter used it to encourage marketing endeavors. "When you do something to make your book known," she said, "it's like casting your bread upon the waters and one day it will return to great sales, readers, etc."

Recently my pastor gave a somewhat different take on it. "Casting your bread on the waters," he said, "is to release yourself. To give freely of your time, your talent, your treasure, and your spiritual gift, not expecting anything back."

Here's a passage from my journal, which includes excerpts from my class notes:

I'm to have the same mind as my Lord. I do the work as unto Him, not for the praise of people, because if it really is significant work, they'll probably be unable to give it anyway. I do it, not expecting (craving?) response or approval, but knowing it's something I give to them freely because I choose to and want to. You give freely, lavishly and you don't expect anything back. Not praise, not good reviews, not even remuneration. Because that's how God works: He reaches out to the world and keeps reaching out whether the world responds or not. In fact, mostly the world doesn't respond.

In the parable of the sower, the seed was sown, in most cases, without positive results. But the Lord doesn't say, 'Only sow your seed among those that you think will respond and don't waste time on those you think won't.' Seventy-five percent of his hearers did not respond to the parable of the sower. That's not the issue. The issue is to be obedient. So what if they laugh at you or mock or reject you? Leave the results to God and keep on sowing.

Learn to look at the things you've done in terms of the influence you've had on people's lives. You're giving yourself, your talent, your gift. Don't do it for money or acclaim. Don't wait for letters of thank you. You shouldn't expect to benefit for every good thing you do in people's lives. We must give to give, not to get.

We must give to give. Not to get.

That's the mind of Christ.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Asking How, What and Why

Today was the first day I've had to work solely on the book since last Friday. Hooray!

Yesterday, in the bit of time I did have to work, I went off on a tangent of looking into research institutes because I realized I had no idea what it would be like to work in one. Today, overwhelmed with the amount of research I would need to do to "get it right," I balked at diving in. Everything I seemed to try just led to me needing more information, and then finding more sources of information than I could possibly digest before this book has to be turned in -- let alone written. Maybe I'm writing about the wrong thing. What do I know about research institutes? Obviously far too little...

But then I stopped and realized that while my story is set in a research institute, it's not my intent to write about life in one. I really only need a few salient details. But how do I find in the array of sources facing me just the bits I really need without having to go through them all? I can't possibly know the answer to that question, but God does. Not only that, He knows all about research institutes and what they're like and He can guide me in forming the story now, so that it takes the right shape to mesh with information He will bring me later...

So I might as well relax.

Beyond that, I also realized today that I’d let my focus slip into the wrong place. Once again, I'd gotten all caught up in my need to have pages completed, and scenes formed and set down in a timely manner, when I should be focused on all that I've been given so far. The questions that have arisen over the last few days about the Institute’s layout, its organizational structure, the weaknesses of the original scene in chapter 5, the questions as to what I should replace it with, and what direction I really want to take here... These are good things and remind me of something I read in Orson Scott Card's Character's and Viewpoint:

"... such possibilities only emerge when we demand more from the idea, when we ask more why and what result questions. If you stop with the first acceptable answer, the first 'good enough' version of the story, you lose the chance to move from shallowness to depth, from simplicity to complexity, from a merely fun story to a fun but powerful one."

He was talking specifically of the generation of a short story in a workshop format he calls "A Thousand Ideas in an Hour." I'm a long way from developing the entire story, but I think the same idea applies to the things I am developing. As I ask the questions, or note the things that are emerging as inconsistencies and start to address them, even though it's uncomfortable and unpleasant to see that the work is not as done as I'd believed it was, this process will make it better in the end. Which is exactly what I want.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Progress Report

New sign in my office, courtesy of Bible Class:

"Never confuse activity with productivity."

The corrolary is that you can be productive without seeing a lot of action. I think I believe that especially when it comes to writing, and I am living by both the command and the corrolary. Oh and also "There's always time to do the Will of God."

The worst thing about breaking my ankle is not being able to drive. I don't really drive all that much, but what I've lost is the freedom to just go take care of something when I need to. Instead I have to arrange for people to take me. Today I had to go to the doctor's office, and my mother graciously agreed to drive me over and then we went to lunch. It was nice because it gave us some time together, but still. There is a loss of freedom.

Which, even though I said it was the worst thing, is probably not. I need to stay home and focus, stare out the window, blunder around, do nontops, etc., and the lack of ability to drive forces that. So even though I've just had several very busy days where I've been driven around doing things, before that I also had a lot of time to think. Which is what the books needs most, now, I think.

I have reached chapter 5 and realized I have to get my research institute settled. No longer can I put it off. The answers to the questions I must ask will determine too many things. The questions? What kinds of departments are there? How is it organized? What is Lacey's job profile? Who does she work for? These are the considerations that get skipped when you just sit down and start pounding out a story as it occurs to you.

Oh, and there's another, worse question, because it seriously affects my entire first scene, the start of the book, the plot, everything: why the heck does Cam have a lab on the animal quarters floor? Of course, it might not be a lab, it might be an office. But why would he have one of those there? And if he has neither, then why was he there on the night of that scene? Wait... I think I might have just thought of an answer...

My ankle isn't giving me a lot of pain. I'm not even wearing the boot much around the house. I can walk on it without the boot and without much pain -- though it'll start to throb if I get carried away. I do have to keep it elevated and that's a problem sitting at the computer. So I've been doing a lot of work in the bedroom... Researching Ziggurats, the Biosphere 2 operation back in the 90s and Greek Mythology.

And doing a lot of thinking, especially about how blessed I am.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Re: Sin to Trust too Much?

I have mentioned before that if readers of this blog wish to comment on a post they can always email me through the profile and I might even put some of them up if I feel so moved. Well, Darleen has been commenting regularly through the email, and this last week her response to my post "Is it Sin to Trust too Much?" really struck me.

Not only did I appreciate her pointing out the problem of Christians seeing themselves as the saviors of others, and trying to operate in our human strengths to do so, but I thought she had a great summary of the four books in the Guardian King series, one I had never really contemplated. Since she's graciously given permission for me to share, here is an exerpt:

"I saw a very battle I face, a false compassion that leads me to think I am the rescue for another, or hold the answer for them in my actions. There is but one Savior, and it aint me!

"I believe if I could hold out just one distraction that takes out most Christians, it is the ability of self. To me, Abramm stood not in his own ability, but in the power of a God he had come to know. I found that most profound when he stood there seeing those he loved in danger. Have we not all been there a time or two? He knew he had the ability within himself to rescue them, but he was brought to a place he had to face: does he trust Eidon to hold the hearts of all men in his hand, can he trust those he loves to His care regardless of the outcome, and walk on with him in confidence? Powerful stuff if we are honest with ourselves!

"Just yesterday I spoke with a friend just now reading the Return, and she said, 'It is a little harder this one, why is that?' I said, 'In the first one we saw the Warrior, the victor, one who overcome evil and was empowered in the victory. In two we saw the King, mighty and worthy to rule. In three we saw the gentle and kind Lover of our soul, and now we are faced with the Servant! We love the many aspects of Christ, but we all chafe a bit at the servant.'"

Warrior, King, Lover, Servant. Very cool and I hadn't seen it like that at all. Though, of course, the series being a depiction of one man's spiritual growth, in the end he is naturally going to reflect different aspects of our Lord because that's what growth is all about: our minds being transformed, so that we think like Him. And when we think like Him we are going to act like Him...

Grace and peace,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Is it sin to trust too much?

A few of the April SFF Blog Tour participants claimed that the way I portrayed Abramm in Return of the Guardian King as continually trusting Eidon in the face of great danger was, indeed, sinful. The objection, I believe, was that Abramm used his trust to justify a reckless charge into danger and that this was not honoring to God. This claim was based on the fact that when Jesus was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Mt 4) and told to prove He was the son of God by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the Temple Mount -- a drop of some 450 feet -- and let the angels catch him, Jesus refused. "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God," He said.

I have encountered various interpretations of this passage over the years but the one that makes the most sense to me is not that this is a caution against abandoning common sense to do pointlessly risky and dangerous things for no reason other than to do them. Rather, in all three of the temptations mentioned in Mt 4, Jesus was being tempted to stop relying solely on the power system God had provided Him in his humanity and to instead switch over to using His deity, which would have right then rendered His trip to the cross null and void. Maybe He still would have made it, but as He would have sinned -- chosen His own will and His own power over the one the Father had provided for Him as a man -- He couldn't have served as the holy and righteous sacrifice needed to pay for our sins.

None of us will ever be tempted to turn stones into bread to appease our hunger, but we are routinely tempted to use our own human power rather than rely upon God to solve our problems. We turn to the world, to "Egypt" with its powerful armies, chariots and horses. We turn to other people, hoping they can bring us comfort, promote us, hold us up, make us feel better, bring us happiness. We try to rely upon ourselves, our own good works, or good sense or determination and self-control to achieve our goals and find happiness. The ways we are tempted in this area are myriad. And like Jesus we must refuse such sources of "help" and rely upon God to supply our needs.

Which was pretty much what Abramm was doing. In fact, in most cases he wasn't even trying to fulfill his own needs but those of others. To see someone else's need and know that you have some ability, or at least the opportunity to try to fulfill it and that such action would be consistent with scripture, and further to believe that God has led you to that very moment of choice, then to decide to go forward with it would hardly be a sin. If the action appears to have no hope of succeeding by sight, or human conjecture, if the world says to forget it, it will never work, you'll all die, etc... well, how is that any different than what the Jews faced at the Red Sea? Or David with Goliath? Or Gideon and his 300 men facing 135,000 Midianites?

To go forward not by confidence in self, but confidence that 1) God is able to make His will known to you and 2) that He is able and will keep His promises to provide, protect and do the work He's called you to do, and see that in His timing you'll have everything you need to carry it out... I don't see that as sin. I see that as living the Christian life.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Too Much Trusting?

Another criticism of Return of the Guardian-King that came up in the April Blog tour was that some felt there was too much trusting of Eidon in it. In fact one person phrased it as "Come on and jump off this cliff, dearie, and Jesus will save you." That phrasing almost knocked me over, for reasons I'll explain in a bit. Another person claimed that too much trusting is unbiblical.

Now, I will be the first to admit that it's very possible the issue was visited a bit too many times in the course of the book and that if I did a subsequent edit, now that time has distanced me from it, I might agree the references needed a bit of a trim.

On the other hand... I'm not sure trusting God can ever be visited or mentioned too much. At least in life. And if I did so in the book, it's likely because every single day, sometimes every hour, I was having to trust God to get me through the writing of that novel. It seemed that I never knew what I was going to do next, that the days were passing faster than the words were accumulating and I was having to fly through it by the seat of my pants. Scenes would appear and be written down without any sense on my part of what they were doing there, or how they fit in the overall scheme of things. Weekly, sometimes daily I had to let go of my compulsiveness and really not think about schedules or guilt and just relax and trust the Lord to see it through. And when I was faced with doing that, sometimes it literally felt as if I were jumping off a cliff.

Which is why that phrase so startled me. I had not realized until I was working my way through RotGK how much I had always used guilt as a motivator. How I would set up a series of goals to accomplish -- like "finish the scene today," or "complete the chapter in accordance with my schedule," or "work on the book for four hours and get ten pages written" -- and then when I failed, flail myself for that failure.

But guilt is a sin, and I knew that. It is not the way God wants us to live our lives. When I came to the point of realizing what I was doing, and that I had to stop making myself feel bad for not having accomplished my plan, I remember thinking in a sort of horror that if I didn't have that guilt and the subsequent "Bad Girl! BAAAD!!!" to regulate myself, I might not get any work done at all.

That was the moment when I realized what I was really using to motivate myself. And not only that, but that I'd done it almost automatically for all of my life. To let go of that, to let go of schedules, to totally stop thinking about how I was going to accomplish the writing and leave it all to God -- that's when I stood at the top of the cliff and realized He wanted me to jump. About like standing on Plateau Point in the Grand Canyon and looking down at the green ribbon that is the Colorado River (see photo, above). And jumping. It was not an easy thing to do...

So, is there too much reference to trusting in Return of the Guardian-King? Possibly. Is that really a bad thing? I don't think so. Too much trusting is better than not enough. Is it unbiblical? Perhaps it can be, but I don't believe it was for me in my life, nor for Abramm in his... But I'll leave elaboration on that for tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Reader Responses to the Faith Elements

Yesterday I expressed a few of my thoughts about objections that the faith elements were too evident in the Guardian King books, particularly Return of the Guardian King. I knew from the outset that some readers would not like the tack I took, but from the responses I've been receiving from readers, I am satisfied with the direction I took. Below are a few such responses:
"I find it Godincidental that this very week I needed a powerful illustration about God’s timing, and of course I finish the book at that very time. You wove that message, that His way is always better than our own, into the plot very movingly. I saw it in bks 1-3, of course, but it was even more effective here. I know references to ROTGK will appear in my journal throughout the year as I face this issue. It’s awesome how God uses stories to convey spiritual truths to us." ~ Sara M

"I wanted to tell you how much I've enjoyed reading your books, particularly the Guardian King series. Each time a new one comes out, I begin reading and immediately get caught up into the characters' lives and world.

"But I also (happily) find that once I start reading, I'm even more caught up in the spiritual aspects of the books, Return of the Guardian King especially. In fact, many of the principles in RotGK have lined up with the last few weeks of Church and Bible Study lessons. But having these principles put into story form has given me an even greater understanding of the things He is wanting to teach me. So thank you so much for writing what you do. Your stories have ministered and continue to minister to me and help me see in a clearer light some of the ways God is working in my life." ~ Ashley

"What hit me the most was that I saw a lot of Job in Abramm in this story. Sometimes I look at a person in the Bible and I've heard there stories over and over, that I tend to glance over something. A story like Abramm, in which I didn't know where it was going, pulled Job into more of a real person to me. I was hoping for a happy ending, but book three told me that I had no idea what to expect in this one." ~Corey

"Your writing has touched my life in a way few writers ever have; the descriptions of the struggles all the characters, especially Abramm, have to endure and overcome synchronize with emotions and obstacles within my own life. Your gift at writing fiction and fantasy in an enjoyable form whose themes are still applicable to everyday life is amazing to me. Your books have helped me hang on to my faith, even as I have questioned it and tested it through the past two years." ~ Sara S

"I cried, I laughed, I feared for the characters. Your writings elicit all the things an excellent writer should be able to do. I am most appreciative of how you are able to take real life struggles in the christian life - such as the battle within oneself to follow the truth revealed to us by God; the self -doubt; self incrimination; the wrestling back from God a burden we just gave up to Him 5 minutes ago." ~Mark

"I've loved fantasy all my life and have read tons of fantasy and science fiction books. You've done something very special with your wonderful books. Every fantasy book I've read has some form of spiritualism - I've often wondered, 'Why not the REAL thing?' You did it!! The God of the Universe in honored. I have been challenged to see the Lord as ever present more than ever, as in control, truly the Lord. That's as it should be, and is a growing reality for me." ~ Grandma

"Before I came upon your books I often wondered how good it would be if someone were to write a series of fantasy novels that had to do with the sin principle in man and dying to self and finding rest in Christ. Your books excel in that area and beyond that…its just a fantastic story with wonderful characters." ~ Tim


Monday, June 18, 2007

Spiritual Elements too Intrusive?

I said awhile back that I was going to do some blog posts that spun off some of the things that were said in the blog tour done for Return of the Guardian King back in April. Today I'm finally getting around to doing that.

The first one has to do with the objection that the spiritual or faith elements are too obvious in the book. Some have felt that the book's quality would be improved had these been moved to the background, been more veiled and less up front.

I used to think this way, but I've changed my mind. Or at least I've changed my mind about it for these books. I write what I know, what I live and what I believe. Those three are so bound together it's impossible to separate them. I know this sounds weird, and maybe incomprehensible, but what I really wanted to write about wasn't "fantasy" but the spiritual life. I just happened to use the fantasy genre to do that. So if my intent is to write about the spiritual life, which is mostly about thinking certain kinds of thoughts, it would have been hard to convey those things in a more veiled manner. Perhaps impossible.

Of course the set of beliefs each individual has is different, with the variations between individuals ranging from not very different at all to near diametric opposition. If you are very up front and specific about such things -- where you are clearly delineating belief systems in the characters' speech and thinking, it's guaranteed a certain percentage of your readers are going to take exception to it. For some it's because the doctrines themselves challenge them -- they don't agree, or they wouldn't apply them that way, or they don't think about them in the ways the author has presented them. Or maybe they don't think about them as much and it irritates or distracts them when such things keep coming up in the prose.

Or it may be they don’t think that’s how a story should be written. They might prefer a story to be more like a puzzle that they have to work at to figure out. That’s fine. That's even fun in some cases. But I don't think that has to be done in every book.

In some cases, the reader has oversimplified what he thinks you're doing and objects on that basis. I've had readers criticize Arena because they thought the allegory is too obvious -- "The manual is obviously the Bible and one of the characters is obviously Christ. Puh-leeze... How simple-minded can you be?!" And they are disappointed.

The only problem is, that wasn't the entire allegory. Those two elements were only part of what was going on. Parts that, like gold nuggets, are lying right there in plain view. The other parts have been hidden, layered in so the reader must work to understand them. Parts that, perhaps, require a particular frame of reference to understand, or maybe a greater grasp of certain spiritual truths that the objecting reader not only doesn't grasp, but has no idea even exist.

The Bible says that if, indeed, you have managed to communicate God's truth in your writing, the naturally-minded person will not understand it and will even regard it as foolishness. That's because it must be spiritually discerned -- that is, understood by means of the filling of the Holy Spirit and by the foundation of understanding one has of God's word.(I Co 1,2) If it was of the world -- ie, conveying worldly principles and viewpoint -- the world would love it; because it is not of the world the world hates it, or "loves it less." John 15:18,19

That means when you start out to write about spiritual truths that actually relate specifically to the Christian way of life even should you succeed perfectly, you know by default that a certain percentage of readers aren't to like what you're doing, and while another percentage might like it, they will only grasp a small portion of what you're trying to do. The only way to get past that is to keep the spiritual aspects confined to the most basic principles, those that the broadest readership will be most likely to understand -- ie, salvation, sin, morality, establishment principles and perhaps some usage of faith. Go beyond that and you're going to start losing people.

That's a bad thing for sales, but I don't think it's a bad thing overall. You have to write what you're led to write, but you also have to accept that you might have fewer readers than you might have otherwise if you choose to do so.

Tomorrow... reader reaction to the faith elements...


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ghost Rider

We watched Ghost Rider with Nicolas Cage last Friday. I like Nicolas Cage, but this movie... I spent waay too much time muttering, "What?!" "Oh that's ridiculous!" "How idiotic!" "Don't they know anything about the angelic conflict?"

In defense I suppose some would say, "It's just a comic book, for crying out loud. No one takes those seriously. Everyone expects them to be ridiculous. After all look at the Ghostrider guy -- he walks around in jeans and boots and a leather jacket and gloves but his head is a burning skull. Not only that, when he drives his motorcycle down the street, he generates such heat and power that he leaves a trail of ash and burning wreckage and for some reason the wind of his passage overturns cars. Yet his clothes don't burn. So you can't expect anything in it to be serious, realistic or to make sense."

Well, certainly those expectations were met!

Still, it bugs me for that very reason that the devil is so often the subject of comic book type stories. Do we assume from that that the devil is not to be taken seriously? An adversary fit only for ridiculously unrealistic comic book material? There aren't people who can spin webs with their hands, after all, nor men of steel who can fly, nor women who can turn themselves invisible. So... the logical conclusion is that there's no devil, either.

The thing is, in all the superhero flicks, the people are often acting more or less like people, struggling with issues that can be considered serious -- crime, tyranny, assault, murder, general nastiness, the desire to destroy. True, the villains are all exaggerations of reality (though I think perhaps Saddam Hussein could give a typical comic book villain a run for his money) but the motivations that drive them find their roots in human greed, cruelty, power lust and sin. And always they are opposed by a hero, a man of integrity and power who can stand up to the villain, defeat him and save the world. Cliche those may be, but they are important truths of life. Because we all desire a savior and if we believe in Jesus we can be liberated. Not only from sin, but from the darkness of the devil's world system.

I guess my problem is, if you're going to put the devil in, and call him that, the character should have some remote connection to the real thing. If you're going to create someone who is really nothing like the devil, you should call him something else. Of course in the way the Ghost Rider story is set up, that'd be a bit difficult.

Still, some people will learn all they know about the devil from movies and comic books. This one says that he's a wimpy, smarmy, wildly inconsistent guy in a priest coat with red eyes who lives in hell and can "steal" souls by, apparently, getting unsuspecting good people to sign a contract with him. Now they are his, and totally at his mercy. He gives them great powers so they can go out and round up evil people and bring them to him for... well, I don't know why. Power? Punishment? It wasn't clear. Maybe it didn't matter. Maybe the only thing that mattered was watching Nicolas Cage get a flaming head and ride his motorcycle... Which admittedly was entertaining. I liked his chain whip as well...

The worst of it, though, is that God really has no place in the movie. There is some lip service, but in the end it's the people who are strong and good of heart. They are the ones who will fight and defeat the devil. In their own strength or even, far worse, in the strength of the powers they've acquired from the devil. I think that's probably what bothered me about it the most. That I'm supposed to admire that and find it a clever turn around when I only found it nauseating.

So. I don't recommend the movie, though as I said, Nicolas Cage was entertaining, and there were some funny bits in it. And of course when the old cowboy type ghostrider appears on his horse, that was very cool. But the theology? Straight from the mind of the devil himself who, as his first line of defense, would like everyone to believe that he doesn't exist except in comic books. And nothing could be further from the truth.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why I Turned off the Comments

In a phrase, because God told me to. In rather stern and shocking terms. I know that sounds whacky, but... guess I'll just have to sound whacky.

It has little to do with the quality/nature of the comments themselves and everything to do with my motivations and the fact that I am too easily led into the wrong ones. When I started this blog it was something I was doing as unto the Lord, something I believed He was moving me to do for His purposes and not my own. But then came the comments and my own predilection toward fretting about them. Writing something, posting it, then wondering if anyone said anything. Worrying about what people might think of certain topics, and then sometimes hesitating to write what I was feeling led to write. And then, regardless of what I wrote, checking a bunch of times to see if anyone had left something -- when I was supposed to be writing. If no one commented, then I might feel dismayed, and that in turn disrupted my mood and confidence for writing, and pretty much annihilated whatever concentration I had before I broke down and checked.

In short, it became a distraction. To make matters worse, the absense of comments would often lead me to start surfing, reading blogs, even checking Amazon, heaven forbid. And if none of that yielded anything, then I would fall into unending repetitions of the entire process. The upshot was... I wasted a lot of time with it all, last year and now. The Lord pulled me through it last year -- got the book done in spite of me -- but now that I see it happening again, I am convicted of the need to make a change. And I have to say that so far I'm pleased with the peace and the ability to focus that has been restored to me because of this.

I'll admit that at first I was afraid of offending people because, after all, the accepted, generally publicized reason for a blog is to get out there and start conversations, generate all this cross linkage, interact with readers, draw a lot of attention. Turning off the comments would stop all that and possibly chase readers off. Ultimately though I had to bow to what the Lord was telling me to do and not worry about that. If that's what happened/happens, so be it. It's not my intent to offend, and if you wish to comment on a blog post you can always email me through the address in the profile in the side bar. You might even generate a new blog post with your emailed comment!

(But not this time, Darleen! LOL. I already had this one written and in my queue before I even opened my email... which is another story, but I'll save that for another day.)

Have a great weekend

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Names and Faces

People ask me sometimes where I come up with the names for my characters and how I choose them. It's a mysterious process. Sometimes I have a pre-existing favorite name (Cameron is one that I'm using in Black Box), and sometimes the name just presents itself. Sometimes it takes a lot of fiddling around to get the name to not only sound right but also look right.

Gillard, for example, I have always heard with a soft g. But "Jillard" looks too feminine for the character. Alas, many readers give the name I chose a hard G when they pronounce it, illustrating the frustrations of trying to properly convey the sounds of a name with which readers are unfamiliar.

Sometimes I've tried to rename my characters for one reason or another. Simon, Abramm's uncle, began as Klemnend -- Klemn for short. Klemn? What was I thinking? The shift to Simon was easy in that case.

At another point I decided for some reason (I think it was the similarity to Abram of the Bible) that I needed to change Abramm's name to Alaric. I wrote a number of chapters with Alaric as the viewpoint name, but it never seemed right and finally I went back to Abramm. Then found a way to use Alaric anyway -- as his alias -- so that was fun.

Trap came whole cloth. A strange name but somehow the right one, though some readers have said that it sounds sinister. It never sounded sinister to me, just strong and straightforward.

Anyway, I've often thought this sense of a name "sounding" right seemed to be very mysterious, esoteric and maybe a little silly. But turns out it's not as silly as I thought.

My friend Ed Willett recently did a piece on his blog called The Face is Familiar, But That Can't be Your Name... in which he reported on a recent research project designed to find out if Americans "hold common notions of what kinds of faces should go with certain names." Turns out they do, and furthermore, that it is much easier to remember someone's name if their face matches your concept of what the name implies (they don't always). Which I suppose explains why you can merely give a character a name and a reader can make up a face to go with it. One that often doesn't look anything like the faces that are put on the book's cover.

These conclusions were followed by the reflection on why that might be. Ed's article said that since Bob is a round-sounding name, it makes sense that it would go with a roundish face, and that Tim, being a thin, angular-sounding name describes an angular face. That might be. I think an even more compelling rationale is the fact that "Bob" is a round-looking name, while "Tim" looks tall, thin. To me, that makes more of a connection with how Bob and Tim will look than how the words sound. But I'm more visually oriented than sound oriented. Then again... why not both: round-sounding and round-looking?

By this measure what are Abramm and Trap? Abramm seems tall, commanding and substantial. Trap is trim, strong, deep. And Cameron... hmmm. Softer, but still strong, kind of mysterious, but with substance as well. Or maybe I'm just biased, since I know the characters I've given those names to. (But what's with all the a's and m's? I detect a pattern here. What does it mean? I haven't the foggiest, but you can read the entire article here.)


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Seeing the Doctor

(At left is a picture of the main room of our deluxe suite at the ranch.)

Today I went to see the orthopedic surgeon. He pressed on my swollen foot, looked at the x-rays, asked me a few questions and confirmed, yes it is a distal fibular fracture, stable, closed, and, from what I can tell, the most benign of these sorts of things. I don't have to have a cast, but can continue to use the boot as a cast, can walk on it as I can tolerate it, and can even take it off when I'm just sitting around.

It's more a nuisance than anything else because there's all this folderol with the huge boot that makes it look like something really bad, and it's not. Okay, yes, I did break my ankle, but there's no real pain, for the most part, unless I walk wrong -- and I'm getting good at not walking wrong. I don't have to lie in bed for weeks waiting for it to heal enough to put weight on it, and don't even really have to use the crutches. In fact, I can actually walk on it without the boot if I'm careful, though this is not recommended.

On the other hand, the reason I can walk on it is because the fibula is not a weight-bearing bone, which means it's going to take longer to heal than the tibia would -- six to eight weeks, he said. Six to eight weeks of wearing this boot...

What I can't figure out yet, is that he said I should be able to drive. But how I could manage to work the pedals with an inflexible foot the size of an elephant's? Maybe I'll have to go out and practice.

Anyway, I seem to have had one new, big distraction every month now since I've started Black Box and the broken ankle appears to be the distraction for June. Despite that, I did do a bit of editing on chapter 4. In fact, as I said before, this might actually be a good thing for the writing in the long run...

(At right is another picture of our room at the ranch, this one taken from where the door is in the first picture, but looking back toward the window and our view. )


Monday, June 11, 2007

Tanque Verde Ranch - The Accident

Continuing our weekend anniversary celebration at the Tanque Verde Ranch, we got up bright and early Saturday morning and arrived down at the corral at 7:15 for our hour-long scenic walking ride. It wasn't hot yet and the trail wound through saguaros and then a mesquite forest. It was fun, easy and a beautiful desert morning with lots of birds. We returned in time to eat breakfast at the dining room (they have a continental buffet plus you can order eggs, bacon, french toast, etc off the menu). Then it was back out for our lope lesson.

I thought this would be half an hour of loping and trotting around the ring -- enough for me to find my riding seat after ten plus years of not having done it. Instead the wrangler got the six of us who reported for testing mounted, then took us out to an arena and told us we had to, one at a time, take our horse from a standing stop to a lope and keep it loping once around the arena. During that time she would evaluate us for position, technique, comfort, etc. (Your butt is never supposed to leave the saddle, your legs are not supposed to cling to the side of the horse, you aren't supposed to grab the saddle horn and your hands and arms should be quiet and in control, not flapping all over the place.)

When we were done she passed five of us (including me) and the other fellow she worked with a couple more times before finally telling him he'd have to take the Intermediate lesson.

On the way back they told us we could go on the lope ride, which was to leave immediately, even though we hadn't signed up, so we did. It was the best loping ride I've ever been on. There were four of us plus our wrangler guide and it lasted an hour and a half. The loping parts were fantastic and for satisfyingly long stretches. When the first one just went on and on, I was amazed. I used to guide at a stables in high school and on our trail there was only one loping section. It was about a quarter of the first one we went on at the ranch. Yes, the first one. There were about five or six others in all, each just as long. Mostly I did okay, but it wasn't until the last one that I really, finally found my seat...

On our third or fourth time to lope, we were heading down a wide wash, and I saw a rabbit and then a quail dart across the trail ahead of the guide who was running about three horse lengths ahead of me. Shortly after that my horse spooked, pulling up hard and dodging suddenly to the right. I went off on the left and hit the washbottom -- soft sand, so I was thankful for that. Of course that was terribly embarrassing. I got up. Felt a bit knocked about but basically okay. Nothing really wrong... I got back on and off we went.

Soon we were loping again and all was well. Except that as we would slow from the lope into a trot my right ankle began to hurt intensely. I couldn't recall doing anything to my ankle in the fall, so I thought maybe I'd hit it on a rock and bruised it. Loping and walking were no problem, and as I said on the last long lope I finally found my seat.

We came back, dismounted, I had to fill out some paperwork because I fell off (cringe) and then we started to walk up the hill to our room. My ankle was hurting, but I could walk on it if I stepped right. Then I started getting woozy and kept having to stop and sit down. That was weird. Nothing hurt badly enough for that. Maybe I was dehydrated...

Well, to make a long story short, after lunch we went into town to get my ankle x-rayed and turns out I have a distal fibular fracture. I was in complete disbelief. The doctor said that in the torquing that obviously sprained my ankle the tendon actually pulled the end of my fibula off, breaking the bone (the fibula is the second, slender bone of the lower leg). Fortunately the fracture had closed and the piece was back in line, so they gave me a huge black boot/brace and crutches and a referral to an orthopedic specialist.

I wasn't about to let that ruin our celebration, however. That night we went to the Western Barbeque down in the cottonwood grove (without boot and crutches -- I didn't feel like I needed them that much and I didn't want to get them dirty). The next day after breakfast, I sat on our back porch, wrote in my journal and sketched the desert while a mama ground squirrel and her baby wandered nearby.

The whole spooking incident and then the bizarre break are so weird, it's obviously part of God's plan. There was nothing anyone did wrong or could have done to prevent it. It's just how it is with horses. They spook sometimes and people fall off. It's actually the third time I've been injured from a fall off a horse (though certainly not the third time I've fallen), and not nearly as bad as the last time, when I sprained my right shoulder and left hand. To have that injury now would really shut me down as far as writing goes. For it to be my leg actually helps the writing, I think, because I'm going to be pretty much a captive in my office! I suspect that's going to motivate me finally to start making some serious progress on this next book.

And it sure wouldn't stop me from coming out to the Tanque Verde Ranch again. In fact, I'd like to try that loping ride a second time. Accident and all, I had a great time.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tanque Verde Ranch

Over the weekend my hubby and I went out to stay for two days and two nights at a local dude ranch to celebrate our anniversary. Or, well, the last five or six of them, which we hadn't had time to celebrate when they had actually occurred. It was well worth the wait!

The Tanque Verde Ranch is located in the foothills of the Catalina and Rincon mountains to the east of Tucson, about half an hour from our home. The brochure material calls it "high, wide and handsome," and it certainly is.

Because it is offseason (ie, hot) the ranch gives summer specials which enabled us to get a deluxe suite for a very reasonable price (that includes everything -- rooms plus all the meals and activities). We arrived Friday afternoon just in time to take the Sunset Desert Hike, something of a misnomer at this time of year since the sun doesn't set until about 7:30. The hike began at 5pm.

We and a man from Pittsburgh went along with our guides, an older couple (ha! they were probably our age!) employed by both the ranch and the park service at the nearby Saguaro National Park. It was a mild, mostly flat, looping hike about two miles long, and though hot at first, as the sun lowered in the sky and a breeze started up it became very nice.

The cicadas were out in force so the normally silent desert droned with their high buzzing calls and they seemed to zip out of the foliage and dart in front of us constantly.

As shadows began to lengthen, I got some really nice shots of the desert. The photo immediately above is looking north toward the ranch buildings and the Catalina mountains. (the one previous to that, is looking due west, into the setting sun, so the saguaro spines are backlit) The picture below was taken when returned to the ranch. It's in front of the main dining room and also the place where the hikes begin and end. The hanging basket hides the corrals which are off beyond the grass.

Once we got back, we cleaned up and went to dinner. Their southwestern-themed dining room has high ceilings with wood beams and saguaro rib linings, and looks out on the swimming pool with the great blue ridge of the mountains looming behind the desert beyond. As we ate, it slowly turned pink.

When you enter the dining room as a paying guest, they hand you a menu with five gourmet entrees to choose from. I got a veal saltimbocca covered in mozzarella with these little new potatoes fried in bread crumbs. It was excellent. My hubby got the prime rib. Everything was astonishingly good. Even the blueberry pie for dessert.

After dinner we sat on the porch to watch the sun set. Then it was off to bed in preparation for our busy Saturday: first the walking ride, then breakfast, then the lope lesson that, should we pass, would enable us to take the loping ride to a chuckwagon breakfast on Sunday...

More tomorrow...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Unbelievably Nice Weather

Today is the coolest June day we've had since 2000. It was only 89 degrees. Clear skies, a bit of a breeze. Wonderful!

Yesterday's trip to Cartridge World to get my ink tank refilled went pretty much as I anticipated. Though it started out smooth enough, after I installed it at home the light that showed the ink was low kept flashing -- even though the tank was now full. A couple of phone calls later revealed to me that the Canon MP350 big black ink tank is the only one they can't get to work right. (the printer's other ink tanks can be refilled fine). We actually did get it to print, but the printer can't tell how much ink is in the tank anymore. I knew it would be something strange... So I didn't get a whole lot done yesterday. At least my arms and wrists were feeling better. As they are today.

Today I floated around most of the day, trying to concentrate and failing, trying to work and ... not seeming to in any direct way. I wrote some nonstops, prayed, wrote in my journal, walked in and out of the office. It was strange the way I would read through all the elements of the chapter I'm working on, trying to see the pattern, trying to see what was the most important thing, to see how it all fit together and have nothing whatsoever seem to gel. As soon as I'd get to the end of whatever I was reading, it was as if I'd read nothing at all.

I have been contemplating the fact that it is part of the spiritual life to be content even when God is taking things away from you that you really care about, and when it really starts to look like He's not going to do what you hoped He would -- what you had trusted Him to do. Still, you look it in the face and you accept it (He's not our own personal genie after all; His plan is not about making things go the way we want) and go forward with the plan. Whatever He's going to do, you know without a doubt it will be better than anything you could come up with in your own pathetic little plans.

Today I was reminded that I also need to be content when the words and story don't come as I'd like, either. No different than anything else in life, but somehow it seems like it is because I keep thinking that I'm in charge of this. But really, if I could have written the chapter I would have. If I could have figured out the problem I would have. It wasn't for lack of desire. Or time. Or opportunity. Finally I just gave it over to Him and relaxed.

About forty minutes before time for Bible Class, a paragraph suddenly fell into place. Then a couple more. And after class, a few more things moved and shifted and took on a better shape. So in the end, I actually did make some measurable progress today. And I'm grateful.

Grace and peace,

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Graying Heroes

I heard this story on the radio today when I was driving over to Cartridge World, and thought it was such fun, I wanted to share it. I found it on through Rush Limbaugh.

It's about how Bob Hayden, a 65-year-old former police commander and his fellow, unnamed passenger, a retired US Marine, helped flight attendants subdue two men who had terrorized passengers on a three-hour Minneapolis-to-Boston flight Saturday night with their weird behavior. "Your lives are going to change today forever," one of the disrupters was reported to have said early on in the flight.

Hayden told to the flight attendant he was a retired policeman and offered to assist in subduing the men, at an agreed upon a signal. But when he stood up and looked around for someone to help, all the younger men looked away, refusing to make eye contact. Finally he asked a gray-haired fellow sitting nearby "if he was up to it." The man's reply was, "Retired captain. USMC."

"You'll do," Hayden said.

Thus as the plane was about to land, and the wild men leapt up shouting, the flight attendant gave the signal, and Hayden and his marine bounded down the aisle to subdue the guy and his brother. For this the two grandfathers "received an ovation from fellow passengers." Hayden's wife Katie, however, (also on the flight) was more occupied with the book she was reading than with her husband's heroics.

When a scandalized fellow passenger asked how she could just sit there reading during all this, Katie Hayden said, "Bob's been shot at. He's been stabbed. He's taken knives away. He knows how to handle those situations. I figured he would go up there and step on somebody's neck, and that would be the end of it. I knew how that situation would end. I didn't know how the book would end."

I love it! You can read the whole story here.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Some New Reviews

Over the past month or so I've been saving up the links to a new interview, and a few reviews to share. Before the time passes further, I thought I would do so.

The first, which I'd intended to post back in April during the Blog tour -- and completely spaced -- is at The Young Ladies Christian Fellowship blog. I did an Interview there and one of the Young Ladies, Natalie Nyquist blogged about Light of Eidon.

Then, Return of the Guardian King was reviewed at Christian Fiction Review here.

Most recently Australian Narelle Mollet reviewed it at her blog, Relz Reviewz. Bethany House has chosen an excerpt from this review to post on the RotGK page at their home website: "Return of the Guardian King is engrossing, entertaining and challenging. The message at it's heart is powerful and not to be missed. This is a landmark series to be enjoyed more than once."

And regarding that "too revealing review on Amazon," the Bethany House conclusion was that its positives outweighed its negatives, especially in light of the fact that due to its length most potential readers would likely only skim it and thus miss many of the details. From what I read recently about Internet reading habits (no one likes to read computer screens, so you should keep it short and sweet) this seems a good point. Also, even if readers don't skim, they may not remember any of the details by the time they get around to reading the book anyway.

Actually, if I were reading a series, I wouldn't even read the reviews on the last book until I'd read it myself (I just did that, in fact, with Fool's Fate) so maybe that's more the rule than the exception in Return of the Guardian King's case.

Today I had to go to the rubber stamp store to pick up the last of the special orders I'd made in the spring. I thought it only made sense to go on the same day as they were having a one day, invitation only, Going Out of Business sale at 25% off of all merchandise. What I didn't expect was that there would be so many other specially invited customers that would have shown up not at 10:15 like I did, but, it would appear, at 10am sharp! The store was packed. I bought a bunch of cool stamps and for the first time in my life stood in a tiny, crowded store with a bunch of ladies I'd never met before and actually had fun! (Usually I avoid such things like the plague)

Unfortunately, I was there until noon (not my plan) and when I came home was too jazzed about the stamps and the things I'd learned to settle down and write. Then there was a phone call and... now my printer is out of black ink and so tomorrow I'm going to go have the cartridge refilled -- a process I've never done before so things are... as usual... weird. Printer instructions warn about not letting the ink tank go dry or it could ruin the machine... (cue scary music) so I can't print up the stuff I did actually work on today. If it's not one thing, it's another. (Which, not surprisingly, was just what Bible class was about today.)

Speaking of things, I spent the weekend unable to write because my wrists and arms were being weird -- sore, cramping and tingling. When I tried to sleep at night they'd either go to sleep or else I'd lie there and they'd throb. I had to take Advil and ice my right wrist on Saturday. Couldn't write longhand for more than a minute or two and using the mouse wasn't good either. It's not so bad now, so I don't know what that was about -- some sort of tendonitis, I guess, and one of the reasons I decided sitting at the table reading a book all Saturday night might not be such a bad idea... but I guess I'd better not push it and stop this now.

Besides, I don't want to get too long here and tax my reader's attention spans or strain their eyes or whatever it is that causes people not to read things on the Internet...


Monday, June 04, 2007

Marathon Reading Binge

Well. I'm not sure what exactly happened to me this weekend, but I suspect Saturday night had something to do with it. I went to Barnes and Noble Saturday morning and bought Fool's Fate, the last in Robin Hobb's Tawny Man Trilogy. I planned to make myself wait a bit to read it. But that night my hubby was off at a track meet and about 6pm I was finishing dinner and it was sitting there on the table and I picked it up, just to see how it started.

Which was a silly excuse even for myself, since I'd already read how it started at the end of Golden Fool. Nevertheless, I picked it up. It's a 900+ page book. I soon realized that the things I wanted to know would not be swift in coming and almost from the start I began my skim reading mode -- leaping over descriptions, exposition, and all the little historical excerpts that begin each chapter. I didn't get up from the chair at the dining room table once I started it. Not to turn off the cooler when it got too cold, not to go to the bathroom, not to go eat when I got hungry again sometime around midnight. That's also when my hubby came home from the track meet. He had brought dinner, and I ate one of his french fries, conversing distractedly with him about the meet as I kept going back for more of the story.

Finally he gave up on me and went to do his after the track meet assessments on the computer. Sometime later he came and told me we were probably not going to be very happy with ourselves in the morning. By then I'd reached the 700s and glanced at my watch: 3am. I'd read for 9 hours straight!

When I stood up, I got dizzy, and for a moment my eyes wouldn't focus on anything beyond arm's reach. I have no idea how I did that, but... I guess I can get pretty intense when I'm engaged with something. And we had communion Sunday the next morning. Or, well, that same morning, I guess.

Amazingly, it didn't go too badly. We went to Starbucks on the way and I had no problem staying awake for the lesson. Not until that afternoon did I crash and take a two hour nap, which is very unusual for me. Then I read the remaining 200 pages and overall thought I'd gotten off well. Even as I seemed to recall that perhaps it was the second day after such an excess that was the worst...

And yes. It was. I was good for nothing but mindless chores today. And not even much of those. I didn't really sleep, but I couldn't get myself to pay attention to anything. And midafternoon I got a pretty nasty fatigue headache. But at least the book is read more or less, and though I plan to read it again from the start thoroughly, I hope that I've taken the extreme edge off the need-to-know-what-happens.

I'm really going to have to do a few blog posts on these books. Not reviews, per se, just reflections. They always spark a lot of thought.

Anyway, that's the reason there was no post Sunday night. I was reading and even if I hadn't been, I was completely wordless.