Monday, July 31, 2006

On Reviews

Do not take seriously all words which are spoken... Eccl 7:21

... or written. A good review can be a wonderful light and encouragement along the rough road of writing a novel, a task that is the ultimate in delayed gratification. A bad review, on the other hand, is not only disappointing, it can also be demoralizing and even paralyzing. What's particularly weird is how you can read five good reviews and it's the condemning words from number six that you remember most clearly for months afterward... Or is that just me?

In any case, it shouldn't be that way. A review is nothing more than one person's reaction to a specific work: what he liked and what he didn't like and why, preferably couched in civil and relatively objective terms. I've heard some argue that Christians shouldn't be tearing down other christians' works, and I can see their point to some degree. On the other hand if you ask your friend what she thought about a book, is it bad if she tells you what she liked about and what she didn't? Is that criticism? Or just the expression of an opinion? When does one become another? I don't know.

But I think if you put your work out in the public forum -- as entertainment especially -- it becomes a fair game for others to comment upon. Inevitably some of those comments will be negative, and I think those who make them should have the freedom to do so. What good would reviews be if no one was allowed to say what they didn't like about a work and only what they did?

God, Himself, doesn't even do that. He could silence everyone who criticized His work, which they do constantly in the millions, but He doesn't. He gives them the freedom to say whatever they wish (for now anyway), and I believe we should as well.

Besides, I think that a negative review, deserved or not, can have a good effect. We don't really do well when all we get is praise. About three encounters with, "You're such a great writer!" and the next thing you know, we're believing it. We need to know that we are not God's gift to the literary world.

Negative reviews help me to stop being so serious about everything, especially myself and what others think about my work. One thing my pastor says is, "People have a right to reject you! They have a right not to like you." For some of us, this is a startling statement. Especially those of us who work hard to please others and see that everyone is happy with us. But it's true. There are some people who just aren't going to like you, or me or our books. And we probably will feel the same about them. So what?

It doesn't mean we have to stop being who we are. Or that our work has no right to exist. Or is intrinsically bad. Negative responses -- rejections of any kind -- come into our lives to teach us to step back, to stop taking things so personally and get our eyes on the right thing: off of ourselves and onto the Lord.

When I do that, I realize how arrogant I'm being to get upset when not everyone loves my work. I recall that God has devised a specific and personal plan for my life all the way back in Eternity past. That He has ordained the good works that I should walk in and has provided everything I need to do so. He is the one who has called me to this and given me whatever amount of talent He has given me -- and if it's not as much as He's given someone else, what of it? Since He's willed His highest and best for all His children, and yet gives out varying amounts of talent among them, then the amount of talent can't be what matters.

I am who I am by the grace of God. I know what I like. I'm writing from that. I answer to the Lord for what I do, using the talent that He gave me. So what if someone thinks it's not enough talent, or I should have done things differently? The talent is what it is, and the book is published. The time for change is over. I'm writing something else now and fault-finding aimed at previous works in no way helps me with what I'm doing now. Why give it more than a moment's thought?

"Do not take seriously all words which are spoken" is a good motto. Especially since reviewers' comments don't even make sense sometimes. Or are obviously the result of the reviewer's personal ax grinding. Sometimes I wonder if they even read the book I wrote. And sometimes I just flat don't agree with the criticism. I have that right, too.

The point is, reviewers should be free to give their opinions, good and bad, if that is what they wish to do. And if what they say is negative, and delivered in the nastiest way possible, I am free to ignore them! They don't have to destroy me or my writing momentum. God's given me everything I need to deal with them. I have only to use it.

Grace and peace,

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean

We saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest last night. Major disappointment for me, and my hubby fell asleep in the middle of it. Everything that was fun and cool about the first one was missing from this one. I'm not a big fan of Johnny Depp, nor of Jack Sparrow, but he was even creepier and weirder in this one than in the first. And the plot...too many threads. The stuff that was supposed to be funny was just stupid, and the delightful fencing matches from the first were replaced with ridiculous, bizarre stunts that marginally involved the swinging of swords. I felt as if the stunt choreographers were trying to come up with something really weird and crazy, maybe even funny, and should have stuck to the story. In fact, that whole side thing with the cannibals -- what was up with that? It seemed more like an excuse for weird stunts than anything that really related to the plotline.

The barnacle men, or whatever they were that were supposed to be Davy Jones's crew got old fast, and I do think that the primary visual I'm going to remember from this movie are those octopus tentacles that were Davy Jones's ... face? Beard? Which were rather cool in a creepy sort of way. Oh, and I wasn't too wild about the voodoo swamp lady, either, not least because I could hardly understand a word she said. We saw it in the theatre because we didn't see the last one in the theatre and thought it would have been fun. Also, from the trailers it seemed that this one's special effects would be more impressive on the big screen. Maybe. Yawn... If I knew what I know now, I'd wait for it to come out on DVD.

And with Superman Returns having also been a disappointment, looks like the summer movie season so far is a wash.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

It's Raining!

It's raining today! Hooray! I love rain! I love gray days and shiny streets and rain streaking the window. Understand we get about five of these a year -- our grass has died seemingly beyond revival in the current drought (we think the termites might have consumed the roots). Even when we have storms, they are almost always interspersed with sun, and the monsoons that blow through only last about 1/2 hour. Which is why everything stops while I go and watch. And when we have an extended rain like today I open all the curtains and savor it.

Well, I was going to write about reviewers' rights to say what they want and how the negative reviews have actually helped me, but then blogger was acting funky last night, it was miserably hot and sticky and I was tired. So I put it off for today, only to find I've got way too much stuff to write about and it's all tangled up in itself. I nonstopped to some degree but I keep jumping from one subject to another...So that is going to have to wait until I can sort it out.

Meantime, a report: I talked to my editor for an hour and a half yesterday morning about her feedback on Return of the Guardian King and learned to my chagrin, that I had neglected to put Chapter 25 into the attachment when I sent the book! It's at the end of Part 2 and the guy who turns the emailed book into a hard copy for the editor didn't notice, and neither did Karen. She was bringing up an inconsistency between where Abramm was last seen in ch 23 and where I take up with him again in ch 27 and we realized what had happened. There is a "Chapter 25" both in the file I sent and in the manuscript she got. There just isn't any text to go with it. One of the things I was going to say about negative reviews is that they keep you humble, but I'm not sure I need any help from them at the rate I'm going here.

As for the feedback, there's a normal amount -- about six pages single spaced, and many helpful suggestions and good points. There's only one part of it that I'm having some trouble with: she doesn't like one of my favorite scenes, but she couldn't tell me any more than that it's not believable to her. The other two reviewers didn't mention it as a problem, and she told me to do what I want to do. But I want to see if I can figure out why exactly it might be a problem and then what I can do to fix it. Beyond that, nothing that I didn't expect. To quote from her conclusion: "I truly believe that all the elements are in place for a great final book for LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIAN-KING." So that's nice.

And last but not least, while I was trying to get Blogger to work this morning I found this from Publisher's Weekly over at the Charis Connection Blog courtesy of Angela Hunt:

Here's the reality of the book industry:
In 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies.
Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.
Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies.
The average book in America sells about 500 copies.
Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000.

So. I'm among the 25,000 who sold more than 5,000 copies and I'm happy. Angie's written a very interesting article about the money authors make that I recommend to both writers and readers: Charis Connection.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

July SF/F Blog Tour - Day 3 (The Review)

Becky said I couldn't grouse about the bad review Arena got over at Christian Fandom, but it looks like I'm going to talk about it anyway. Actually this isn't going to be a grouse-a-thon, because I happen to think reviewers have a right to say whatever they wish, which I'll get to probably in tomorrow's post. In the meantime, I just want to tell this story because it's funny and the events have been useful in my growth as a writer.

Of course Arena started out with the two amazing reviews from Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal, a circumstance utterly wasted on the naive and ignorant me of that time. After years of getting hit with skeptical raised brows from the Christian crowd with regard to the SF element of my work, and from the SF crowd with regard to the Christian element of my work, my paranoid streak was deeply ingrained. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sure enough, the first review ever to come in on Amazon completely trashed the book: it was boring, it was about Christianity -- heaven forbid!-- it was stupid, it was everything bad. Two stars were granted and I have no idea why so many. The funny thing about it was that review was followed within a day by one of the best Amazon reviews the book ever got, and before too many more days the bad one wasn't even on the first page any more.

More reviews and responses came, mostly from romance/women's fiction sites -- Christian and general market -- saying they were really surprised because they never thought they would like science fiction, that it was the first of its genre they'd ever read, and they were amazed. Along with them came various ravings about the romantic side of the story, which I'd always thought of as being secondary. Arena is not technically a romance after all.

Then the Internet guy at Bethany House told me how to troll for reviews. If you type up Bookname by Authorname and put it all in quotes you can find any reviews that have been posted on your work. Well, who could resist? (Only someone who's not been burned too much by that practice.) So I went trolling and found all these nice reviews. Then I hit the one on Christian Fandom. Well, I'd been a member of the CF email loop for awhile before then, even posted a bit of a blurb about Arena's release there. Here, of all places, I thought, I would not have to endure the problem of it being either too-Christian or too-science fiction!

Ah, but I'd forgotten about the clash between the romance lovers and the science fiction lovers! Silly me. I knew very well about the long-standing criticism of early works of SF for its focus on the gizmos, the gadgets, the world building and the brilliant scientific what-ifs, while utterly ignoring characterization. SF writers were repeatedly lectured on the need to create well-rounded characters, and to spend a little more time on relationships, not something that came naturally to most of them. They wrote the way they wrote because they LIKED to write that way! I remember one book telling writers to force themselves to work on the characterization aspects of their stories, no matter how much it grated on them.

So I knew enough not to be surprised. Nevertheless I was. If you've not read the review you can find it HERE (scroll down to the last review). I'll be frank: it hurt. Quite a bit, in fact. It dismayed. It distracted. Not least because... I'm not a huge fan of the genre of romance myself. I enjoy reading the occasional romance, but I tend to get impatient with the format that deliberately keeps the lovers apart for the duration of the book, I don't like the whole "woman tames/heals the man element," and, yes, the flowery, emotional language tends to make me cringe. They say that criticism hurts the most when it contains an element of truth, and the idea that I had written some of that emotional, purple prose was mortifying! Especially when it was hauled out of its context and set there naked for everyone to read, bereft of the emotional buildup that makes it work in the actual narrative. (Or not, depending on the reader.)

There's a certain dismay as well in knowing that you've disgusted, nauseated and revolted someone. I don't think any writer sits down with the intension of generating revulsion in their readers. (Wait. Maybe not, now that I think of some of the things I've read in King and Koontz!) But when you don't intend it, and do anyway, you feel as if you've done something embarrassingly offensive in public. Guilt and nausea well up in you, and your heart races. Later, usually when you're trying to write again, it all comes back to haunt you, reminding you of the awful thing you did and how bad a writer you are, and now you're utterly frozen.

Well, that sort of thing comes with the territory. If you don't learn to get over it, you don't write. So I did put it behind me: Different strokes for different folks, the book was about much more than its romantic elements, and I know that some people hate romance. Whenever you put something out for public consumption you know you are going to hear from those who don't like what you did. In retrospect I'm just happy to have had any review at all.

But the story doesn't end there, and this is the funny part. About nine months after I'd first found the review and had for the most part forgotten it, Greg emailed me a copy of it, apologizing for not having sent it to me when he first posted it. "What! I have to look at this again?" I'm not sure if I responded to him. It was hard to say thank you... but I might have; I know that I considered it. In any case, I went through all that angst again, put it behind me again, and went on.

Six months later, Bethany House sent me a hard copy of that same review as part of a new policy to send whatever reviews their Internet people had found online during the specified time period. Yowie! What IS this? Again, I went through the drill, put it behind me and went on.

Then, believe it or not, six months after that Bethany House sent me yet another hard copy of it! LOL Will I never get away from this review??

I know the Lord allowed it all to happen. And now I'm grateful for it. But I'll talk about that tomorrow.

I do have to add, however, that Greg recognizes the different strokes for different folks principle and welcomes having others contribute their opinions to the reviews on the Fandom Site. If you've not had a chance to check the site out, or if you'd like to continue doing so, you can click HERE.

Have fun

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

July Christian SF/F Blog Tour - Day 2

Today continues the SF/F blog tour featuring Christian Fandom , which was begun by a group of Christian fans who met at SF/F conventions back in the 80's. I've been to exactly 2 such conventions myself, both also back in the 80's, though at the time I did not know Christian Fandom even existed. My first convention was the World Fantasy Con in Tucson, which I attended with Kathy Tyers before Firebird ever saw print. In fact, the book was under consideration at the time by an editor at Bantam Books who also happened to be present at the conference. Kathy was dying to meet with her, but worried she might seem too forward if she just went up and introduced herself. Finally on the last night at the awards banquet, she gathered up her courage and did it, and the editor was very happy she did. Shortly after that, Bantam contracted her for Firebird.

The next year (or more likely a couple years later -- my memory is vague) we attended the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC) at the convention center in Phoenix, an even bigger con than the WFC because it included all genres, not just Fantasy and Horror.

The things I most remember: riding the elevator with Imperial storm troopers; the woman at the buffet wearing a bikini made of chain mail (ouch! and brrr!); an author whose first book had just been released and been included in the packet they gave to all attendees, who I thought might be on crack, but have since decided was more probably on a first-book-release high... There was also a panel of learned research scientists, one of whom made the startling revelation that when she was conducting her experiments she would often get an epiphany of what the result of the experiment should be/was and would "bend" the data to support it. I sat in gape-mouthed astonishment. You mean... you aren't objectively evaluating the data after you've collected it as they taught us in all our science classes? Nope. And she wasn't the only one. Numerous heads nodded agreement and approval throughout the room.

I passed Dean Koontz in the hallway back when he still had his mustache, and at the second con, when Kathy had passed into the vaunted realm of published writer but I had not, I got to observe and experience what it's like to be a potted plant. Whenever we would meet new people, their eyes would drop at once to my nametag, and seeing it had no "author" ribbon would move immediately to the next person without saying a word or even looking at my face. Only when they found the "author" ribbon would they stop and show any interest at all. It happened again and again. I don't recall it actually bothering me, being more amazed and amused by it than anything. Yes, I was somewhat naive... Anyway, there were lots of fascinating panel discussions on writing and such, a competition of incredibly elaborate costumes, and famous people appearing in the halls when you least expected it... overall it was fun, exciting, and absolutely crazy, but in many ways also very intimidating.

In a more serious vein (ahem), yesterday I mentioned that the Christian Fandom site has a number of interviews of Christian authors, agents and artists posted, and one I have found to be especially interesting is that of my agent, Steve Laube. Steve was formerly a Christian bookstore manager, then a top editor at Bethany House (he was the one who persuaded them to buy Arena and the Legends of the Guardian-King books) and now has gone on to become an agent. Obviously he has a lot of experience and knowledge about the industry, its roots, its pitfalls and how it works. He also loves speculative fiction and to say he is widely read in the genre is an understatement. In this interview he talks about fantasy and sf in particular, his role as agent, how the genre was doing in the industry at the time and why it struggles -- remarks that remain applicable to today's market. I found it a fascinating interview. You can find that one HERE.

When you're done with that, check out what these other bloggers on the tour have to say about the Christian Fandom site and Christian SF & Fantasy:

Valerie Comer, Kameron Franklin, Beth Goddard, Rebecca Grabill, Leathel Grody, Elliot Hanowski, Katie Hart, Sherrie Hibbs, Sharon Hinck, Pamela James, Tina Kulesa, Shannon McNear , Rebecca LuElla Miller, Mirtika Schultz, Stuart Stockton, Steve Trower, Speculative Faith


Monday, July 24, 2006

July Christian SF-Fantasy Blog Tour -- Day 1

I've heard back from my editor on Return of the Guardian-King and the news is good. Whew! She expects to have her full and official feedback to me by the end of Tuesday, which means my vacation is coming to an end. I don't expect to start work immediately, but plan to read through the comments and then let them simmer (if I can...)

Meantime, I was asked to take part in this month's SF/F Blog tour and, being relatively free, I agreed. It will run Monday through Wednesday starting today. This month they are highlighting Christian Fandom, "an interdenominational fellowship of fans interested in the courteous and accurate representation of Christian viewpoints in genre fiction fan communities."

Christian Fandom began as a group of fans who met at various SF conventions to support each other in an environment that was generally pretty hostile toward Christians. They continue to meet at the cons today and aso have a website (LINK) featuring reading lists of Christian oriented works -- or works from a Christian worldview, however you wish to phrase it -- in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and (a new addition) Western. Many if not most of the books cited are not put out by CBA, but the general market.

They also have book reviews as well as reviews of films, audio tapes and music inspired by genre fiction works, and an email loop you can sign up for to discuss SF/F from a Christian perspective. Occasionally on that loop they conduct online interviews of Christian artists, agents and writers, allowing email recipients to participate in asking questions and offering comments. Transcriptions of the interviews are subsequently uploaded to the site where non-participants can read them. These include one I did with them last January. If you've not read that interview you can find it HERE.

Even if you have read the interview I invite you to investigate the site and also check out what the other bloggers on the tour have to say about it. It's being coordinated by Shannon McNear at her blog, Shenandoah's Eclectic Musings , where you'll find a complete list of the other participants.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Writer's Avoidance Techniques

1. Check the email
2. If nothing is there, go to
3. If your page hasn’t changed, check B&N or Christianbook
4. Go back to Amazon and begin checking all the sales rankings of every recent book you can think of.
5. Look at the various lists of books they provide.
6. If there is a bad review on your page, spend a good deal of time stewing about it.
7. Write in your journal about the bad review.
8. Write in your journal about how blocked you feel.
9. Make a list of avoidance techniques.
10. Read a magazine. If all the magazines are gone, read your husband’s Handball magazine. Or a catalog.
11. Go read one of your earlier books. You can spend hours on this.
12. Count the number of fan letters your first book received in its first month and compare that to the number your second book received.
13. Do this for as many consecutive months as your second book has been out.
14. Answer emails.
15. Write your blog. Edit and republish it a gazillion times.
16. Go searching for pictures for your blog on Flickr.
17. Read everyone else's blogs.
18. Write comments on others’ blogs.
19. Read your own blog -- there might be comments. Instead, notice an error and edit and republish it. Again.
20. Check out your own website to see if anything has changed.


Want to add to the list?


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Daily Study

"I've heard you talk about your priority for daily teaching of the Word ... do you look to this as your primary or even sole source of "feeding," or do you spend a corresponding amount of time reading and studying Scripture on your own?"

Yes, I do look to this as my primary and pretty much sole source of feeding. What?! I don't read and study the Scriptures on my own? Well, no, and there are many reasons why. First you have to understand the type of teaching that I'm talking about. My pastor teaches directly from the scriptures, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little (Is 28:10).

What that means is that he goes through a book of the Bible verse by verse, exegeting from the original languages to show us the meaning of the verb tenses, voices, etc. Greek, especially, is very different from English in that regard, so you can't just read the English and really get any idea what it's saying in many cases. In addition to the verbs, there is the meaning of the word in question, the usage at the time -- historical setting -- and the way the word has been used in other places of scripture, the latter often developing into an entire category related concepts. In that case, he usually stops to teach us the category, going throughout the scriptures to examine the concept as it is presented in various verses. Once that is completed we go back to the original verse and continue.

He is currently going through the book of Philippians, and is in Chapter 4. So far I think he's accumulated about 1400 hours of teaching on that book. To give you an example of how the process works, take Philippians 4:12 --

"I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need."

When our pastor came to the words "learned the secret" he first told us what those words meant (mueo -- to be initiated into the secrets of a fraternity) and then began teaching us the category of doctrine called mystery doctrine, which is that group of doctrines that are specific to the Church and totally unknown to old Testament saints. First there was the establishment of the usage of the word mystery (musterion, related to mueo) and what it means (relates to the Greek mystery cults at the time, where they had secret doctrines known only to those who were members of the fraternity); from there he went to John 13, the night before Jesus's death when for the first time our Lord began to teach the disciples about the specific doctrines of the church age which would shortly be upon them -- truths that were new and startling and not something Old Testament belivers would even have imagined. These doctrines include heirship, adoption, election and predestination, positional sanctification, experiential sanctification, the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit, among others.

When I was first saved, I did read the Scriptures but often they didn't make a lot of sense to me. Verses that were supposed to explain things, didn't and I saw lots of contradictions, things would make sense for a bit and then something would come in that didn't seem to fit at all... I had many questions. So when I was first exposed to this kind of teaching it was incredible. Like lights going on and doors flying open. So much that I had wondered about, so many verses that didn't make sense, were now making sense. Things I had never seen in just reading the Scripture I was now seeing, though they had been there all along. I ate it up.

Then, a year or so later, circumstances conspired to prevent me from being able to listen to my pastor's teaching, so I decided that I would study the scriptures for myself. I knew by then a little bit of what was needed so I bought a book on learning New Testament Greek, several commentaries, a Greek New Testament, Strong's Concordance, vine's Expository Dictionary and other books. Then I set about the task of teaching myself Greek and studying the Bible on my own. Since I had no job outside the home, and no children at that time, I was free to devote myself to study all day long.

And I did. And when I was done, having spent an entire day chasing one thing after another, looking up this meaning and that, I ended up with so very, very little of actual value to my life -- nothing I could really apply, that I was shocked. This kept on for a month or so and then I realized how behind the curve I was. My pastor at the time had majored in Greek and history in college, then went on to become a doctoral candidate in Seminary. He studied straight from the original languages, and he considered it his full time job to study the Bible and teach it. He didn't do counseling, or visit the sick, he spent his time studying and teaching the word as Acts 6:2 commands.

Well, I had a house to keep, a husband to please and other duties, plus... the pastor was already doing the studying and from a knowledge base it would take me years to gain. So why shouldn't I take advantage of his work? Add to that the fact he had a supernatural spiritual gift that I did not have (Eph 4:11,12) which enabled him to see things and make connections in the Scriptures I would never see on my own, and I saw the futility of what I was trying to do. I couldn't even come close to getting the kinds of things from the word that he did. And that my pastor now, still does.

So I stuck with the daily study. He taught about an hour a day, the lessons at that time on cassette tapes and I listened to one and sometimes two a day. The amount of understanding and information that I got from those lessons completely dwarfed whatever I might glean from any daily reading. In fact, for a long time after that, I still would read passages and often would feel like I didn't really know what they meant. I would wonder what the original languages said, what the verb tenses were, what the history at the time of writing was...

So I still prefer class for my daily feeding -- the one thing that is the given in my day, the high point, the time when God most often and most dramatically speaks to me. I've memorized passages just because they've become so familiar not from any attempt to do so. And now, when I read the Scriptures, I understand them like I never did before. A lot of times I don't want to stop, but at the same time, to read it like that still gives me the sense that I'm just passing right over so many important concepts -- especially in the epistles, where it seems like every single word can launch you into so many important, deeply relevant concepts. They are the kind of things you have to stop and think about and it just doesn't seem right to blow over them.

So, that explains a little bit of why I do what I do.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bad Writing Awards

The 2006 Bulwer-Lytton Awards for bad writing have been announced. This competition in literary parody began in 1982 and is sponsored by San Jose State University. Its name comes from Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), best known for The Last Days of Pompeii and the originator of the phrase long plagiarized by Charles Shultz's Snoopy, "It was a dark and stormy night." (It first appeared in his novel Paul Clifford.) The goal is to submit bad opening sentences for imaginary novels.

There are numerous categories, but given my interests in fiction, I'm only going to quote two of them.

The fantasy fiction winner:

It was within the great stony nostril of a statue of Landrick the Elfin Vicelord that Frodo's great uncle, Jasper Baggins, happened to stumble upon the enchanted Bag of Holding, not to be confused with the Hag of Bolding, who was quite fond of leeks, most especially in a savory Hobbit knuckle stew. - Camille Barigar, Twin Falls, ID

And the science fiction winner:
"Send a message back to Command Central on Earth and ask for their advice, which we will be able receive immediately even at this great distance, thanks to the ingenious manipulation of coherent radiation through a Bose-Einstein condensate and the bizarre influence of the Aspect effect, which enables us to impart identical properties to remotely separated photons," Captain Buzz told the feathered Vjorkog at the comms desk, "and tell them our life-pod is going to explode in eight seconds." - Christopher Backeberg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

I think I like the SF winner best... Here is the LINK to the rest of them. Have fun.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Movie Star Bear

After Bear completed basic obedience training with me, my husband took him on into advanced training which was based on food rewards. Since hounds are even more food-driven than regular dogs, that worked very well. Now he can speak, count, roll over, be a "dead dog" (except for his tail), put his head up or down on command, crawl and dance. He'll even do some of them to hand signals. He loves to do tricks, and gets positively ecstatic when you get out the treats. Seriously. I think he would much prefer to do the trick and get the treat than to simply get the treat.

For awhile he had an agent (in fact, he had an agent when I didn't!) and he's even been in a couple of movies. One was about training your dog to do tricks, from which the picture here is taken. He is wearing his cowboy costume and counting (barking). The other was a short film done by a student at the UA. It was a five minute scary film called The Pool Man. Bear's job was to bark hysterically offscreen, which he did magnificently. I never saw the movie but I think something bad happened to that pool man... Fortunately we don't have a pool.

Every Friday night before we settle down for our movie at home, my husband puts Bear in one of the bedrooms, then hides about five treats throughout the house. We let Bear out and he runs around in sheer delight, sniffing out all the treats. If we forget, he will not let us watch the movie in peace until we hide his treats for him. It's so fun to watch him find them, though, we rarely forget.

Another thing that's really a hoot to do is to find him sound asleep somewhere, go get one of the especially aromatic treats (T-Bones, for example), and then just sit there near him holding it. For maybe 30 seconds he'll lay there, unresponding. Then his nose will give a violent twitch and suddenly he's wide awake and up, searching for the treat. Too funny.

Have a great week

Previous Bear entry: Young Bear

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Not Earned

I've been thinking about my previous post on Christy Reflections, and there's something I want to clarify and expand upon. I not only didn't earn this award all by myself -- I didn't earn it at all. I don't see this as a partnership. I'm the slave, He's the master. He must increase, I must decrease. I see the award as a grace gift from my Father all the way, and grace, by definition, means I can't have had any part in earning or working for it.

I realize this is a difficult concept to get one's mind around. It's taken me about thirty years. All the times my pastor has said that we don't deserve anything, that everything that comes to us does so as a function of the grace of God, I didn't really understand what he was saying. Part of me would hmph and grump and say, "Well I'm the one who's doing all the writing! I'm the one who's doing the thinking and the striving and so forth. I don't see how that's not something I've done."

So God, in his everlasting faithfulness, has seen fit to show me what He has given me:

A body that includes a brain that is able to think at all, lungs that breathe, fingers that type, eyes that see, a butt that can sit in a chair (and with some of the transient ailments/injuries that have come to me over the last couple of years -- at least six different things-- not even this is a given).

Air to breathe, food, clothing, shelter, a computer, an office with a door, mentors, friends, critiquers when I needed them, instruction -- by books, by people, by conference. Other writers who write books to inspire and instruct me. Novels, novels, novels to read and love and study.

A prepared pastor who studies the word of God daily and sees that his congregation gets daily academic teaching of the word, either from him, or his excellent pastors-in-training. The local building where the teaching can occur, a computer to access it with, the brain/air etc to be able to hear and concentrate on the message, the filling of the Holy spirit to enable me to understand it.

It is this information, learned, believed, stored in my soul and applied in my life -- along with all the myriad life experiences I've had -- that have given me the subject matter I write about.
Everything that I am -- my personality, my likes and dislikes, my upbringing -- is courtesy of God's grace ("I am what I am by the Grace of God"). My lifelong love for words and fiction, the ability to use words easily (it's like breathing for the most part; my mother says I taught myself to read and I cannot recall a time when I did not know how) my ease and love of reading... all from Him.

Story generation is about the same. I believe God has placed in me the desire and aptitude to write -- a natural one that predates my salvation. Once I was saved, the desire to write novels melded with the desire to write about the Christian way of life (my life) and to illuminate the wonders of who God is. I no more go to the keyboard out of "obedience" than I breathe and eat out of obedience. It's something I have a strong desire to do, even when I don't want to do it. (A statement which probably only another writer can understand.) I am more inclined to be of the viewpoint of trying to fit my life into my writing, than the other way around.

And even when I look back on what I did during the writing of Shadow Over Kiriath, I see not much of me and a whole lot of Him: so many times I had to wait for the words to come. When I didn't want to work, it was because there were no words, no scenes, no ideas. I wanted them though, so I was willing to do whatever it took to get them to come: wait, walk, nonstop, outline, plan... I had to do lots of confession of anxiety and impatience and frustration. But when the words and scenes finally did come, I was at the keyboard typing away, completely absorbed. I love to do it. I want to do it. And so I do it. It just doesn't seem much like obedience.

Obedience is when you have to go next door and apologize to the man for your dog who just ran into his yard and bayed at him until he jumped onto the hood of his truck (I suppose that means that Bear has "treed" a man...) That's when you want to crawl in a hole and do anything but face the guy, but you do it anyway, because you know that's what the Lord wants you to do.
Writing for the most part is not like that at all.

Okay, but what about the thinking and the stories?

The stories, as I said come out of who I am -- all the stories I've read and seen in movies, everything that delights me or frustrates me or excites me. The craft, the putting of it all together, that comes from the reading I've done, the instruction I've had, all down through the years, opportunity after opportunity -- all from the Lord. (When I first decided I wanted to write novels again, but as a Christian now, the very next day I found a Writer's Handbook sitting on the bottom shelf of a bedside table where we were housesitting; shortly after that, living in Northern Arizona, I went to the thimble-sized library in the teacup-sized town of Lakeside, AZ and discovered an entire set of the Famous Writers Study at Home Course for fiction -- which completely blew me away.)

Yes, I always took advantage but it never seemed like obedience. I was delighted to do it. I loved learning about the craft, and studying other novels and seeing what worked and what didn't. It was pure pleasure. I loved tinkering with my own works to improve them. And I began to think that maybe I knew quite a bit about how to write fiction...

Since I've had to write to a deadline, though, the Lord has taken that part away from me. I start a book with the vaguest of outlines. Maybe a paragraph or two of words that will somehow become a 211,000 page manuscript (LOL). The entire time I'm writing, I don't know where I'm going, really, beyond what's in those two paragraphs. Scenes will pop into my head that seem to have nothing to do with the rest of it, but it's the only thing I have. It's seat of the pants, and I'm not by nature a seat of the pants writer. Before I was published, when I had all the time in the world, I liked the outline approach. I did the scene and sequel cards. I had things mapped out. I took the time to get my head around the whole story. If I chose, I could put it away for a month, six months, even a year to cool so I could come back to it entirely fresh. No more. The Lord has taken that away, so all the things I might consciously bring to the table in order to control, direct and manage the process are no longer there. Which means He's the one who has to do it.

With regard to the writing, I feel very much like a branch. And a branch is just a tube through which the vine pours nourishment out to the leaves and the fruit. Every day I have to go to my Father and ask what I'm to do next. I have to trust Him to guide me when it seems like I'm going nowhere. I sometimes sit down and just ask him to give me a scene. And He does. When it's done and I see things that I had no idea were there... how can I take any credit for that?

The only thing I can take credit for is obeying the command to "seek Him first, and His Righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." And by seek Him, I mean making the number one priority in my life to be my daily exposure to my pastor's teaching of God's word. Okay, and being filled with the Spirit as much as possible, too, so I can apply what I've learned to my life. Listen to the word being taught on a daily basis, keep short accounts in the confession of sin. Everything else that's of any worth at all comes from those two things. (And even in this I can't take much credit since He does all the work here, too. But that's another post.)

"He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done." Luke 17:9,10

And that which we were made to do, as well.


Friday, July 14, 2006


Here's a picture of summer clouds taken by my friend Mary who lives in Phoenix. We have clouds like this in Tucson, too, I just haven't gotten my act together to get the camera out at the right time. We did have a storm today, the first since we've gotten back. Which is funny because the week before we left we were having terrific storms. The streets filled up with water, branches floating along, the yard completely inundated... I love 'em!

I talked to my editor today and she hopes to get her feedback on Return of the Guardian-King to me by the 25th or 26th of July. I'll probably start working again around the first of August. I'm hoping to finish the first of October so I can get started on Black Box (or whatever it's going to be called.)

The day after we got back from Denver I did clean out my refrigerator! Since then, I've been slowly chipping away at my list of things to do. Today it was catch up on email and work on my newsletter, neither of which got finished.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Christy Reflections

Winning a Christy Award is a nice thing, and I truly appreciate it. But it also and inevitably causes me to reflect.

On the one hand there is much made of it, and on the other, it hardly matters at all. On the one hand, it's a nice affirmation of my writing from people who have some sort of credibility when it comes to evaluating such things. On the other, there are accomplished writers who have yearned for an award like this for years, and when they go home not having won it, they are struck with discouragement and depression that may last for days, weeks, maybe even months. Suddenly they feel that they cannot write, that not winning is a condemnation of their abilities and identities as writers.

All of which gets me thinking about the vulnerability of a confidence derived from our own good performances or from the recognition of others for them. That sort of confidence is only as good as the last performance or recognition. What if our next attempt at performing goes haywire, or the next response of someone is critical and condemning. Then what?

True confidence, I have learned, comes not from what we think of ourselves or what others say of us, but from knowing and believing what the word of God says about us: that we are completely accepted in the Beloved; that He already sees us as perfect and holy and we cannot make ourselves any holier than we already are. Our holiness comes not from anything we do, but from our being in union with Him and having his righteousness. A righteousness given to us by grace... Believing and contemplating those truths are what make us truly confident -- not in ourselves but in our relationship with Him.

I've heard people accept awards like this and say there are others who deserve to win it more. I disagree. I think the Bible is pretty clear about the fact that none of us deserve anything at all. These awards, when all is said and done, come because God chooses to give them, not because we've written a good book. He may grant them for blessing, because He knows we have the capacity to receive them without thinking that we did something to earn them, or he may grant them for other reasons -- sometimes to show us that these things we are so sure will make us happy and satisifed and fulfilled ultimately fall short.

The best thing about this award is that I see it not so much as an affirmation of my ability (which He gave me, anyway), but of His hand in it all. Of the fact that a year or so ago when I was struggling through the end of Shadow Over Kiriath, not at all sure that the book was working in any way, I had only the fact that I had sought the Lord's guidance in writing it, and knew that He has promised to guide those who have remained faithful to his word and who come to Him and ask. By extension I can apply that to the present book, which is also in that nebulous, awkward, ugly, not quite formed stage, and know that He will make it beautiful and meaningful in His time. Not because of anything in me, but because I'm trusting Him to do it, and He keeps His promises. The Christy award, for me, is a symbol of that.

For who regards you as superior? And What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it (ie, had earned it)? I Co 4:7

In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you might say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth... Deut 8: 16-18


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Christy Awards 2006

I am finally back from Denver where, as many of you already know, Shadow Over Kiriath received the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian fiction in the Visionary category. It's my fourth consecutive Christy.

The funny thing in retrospect is that, of course, I had to give a little speech. Last Wednesday I received an email from my editor passing on the requests of the Christy Award organizers. Award winners would be on stage for one minute and were expected to give an acceptance speech. These remarks "needed to be prepared, succinct, and linguistically captivating!" It was three days before my deadline. I was giving my all to finishing the draft of Return of the Guardian-King. There was no way I was going to come up with anything "linguistically captivating" in that state. Fortunately he said my past remarks were fine and so I decided to simply mentally rehearse what I would say should I win and leave it at that.

Well, of course, you never know if you're going to win or not, and the Visionary category is announced second to last. I'd just turned in a 211,000 word manuscript the night before and then flown to Denver that same day. Besides that, all the winners before me came to the podium with wonderfully moving remarks (some prepared, some not). Then the announcer read from the first chapter of Shadow Over Kiriath. That was not actually the book's opening line, so when I first heard it I thought it was someone else's... until he said "Hazmul" and then I realized... it was mine.

I went up and it started out okay, but then about halfway through my brain went into a snarl. I couldn't find the words, I couldn't keep the thoughts in order... I felt like I was babbling. In fact, that's what I finally said. "I'm going to leave now because I am babbling. Thank you." So I made a complete fool of myself. My consolation lay in knowing that most people wouldn't remember it longer than the end of the ceremony. Later I thought it was kind of an amusing way for the Lord to keep my head from getting too fat: I may have won 4 Christy's but when it came to speeches that night, I sounded like a complete flake. Proof that He uses the foolish things of the world...

Below is a picture of the 2006 winners:

Vanessa Del Fabbro, Deeanne Gist, Yours Truly, Liz Curtis Higgs, Dale Cramer, Nicole Mazzarella, Athol Dickson.

Reveling in God's grace,


Friday, July 07, 2006

It's DONE!

I've just now sent the finished first draft of Return of the Guardian-King off to Bethany House. I am in awe that it all fell together and that, just as I trusted, the Lord gave me exactly enough time. Because even though it's not 1:30 in the morning like it was for the last book, I still have to get ready to leave for Denver tomorrow.

The only thing I forgot to ask the Lord about was the length. When I did a word count this afternoon (the first I've done since I started) I about fell out of my chair: 211,000 words. That's at least 20,000 words too long. At first I was dismayed, but now I'm actually feeling good about it. It gives me some boundaries, and I like to cut and tighten. I like it far more than first drafting, actually. And it's good to have a lot of material so you can winnow and focus... I just hope my editor doesn't have a heart attack when she sees it.

For now though -- I'm free! No more thinking about the book. I'm going to go to Denver, stay in a fancy hotel, eat at a couple of banquets... visit some friends, come home and ... maybe I'll clean out my refrigerator. Go watch Superman Returns or Pirates of the Caribbean. Read some books!


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Deadline

From one of my commenters:

"So remind us when you do post, when is the deadline?"

My deadlines are more like ... guidelines, to quote from Pirates of the Caribbean. My editor is wonderfully accomodating -- as much as the marketing people allow her to be. Right now I'm aiming for Friday, July 7, because I desperately want the thing done and out of the house when I leave for Denver. If that doesn't happen, then I'll turn it in sometime in the next week. The latter is definitely do-able... but I'll pay the price later on, of getting shorted when I'm working on the final draft. And right now I really need some distance from it. As I'm going through the coherence edits I am coming upon so many little details that I just threw down, and now need to work out... But since I haven't decided what all I'm keeping yet, I don't want to get too carried away with detail work. And I really really want to be finished by Friday.

I've finished the rough draft of ch 38 and started ch 39, and just printed up the finished coherence edit of ch 22. Which means I have a lot more editing work left to do than first drafting. It looks like it's going to be 40 chapters long. This is where I have to start applying that Tom Clancy quote about good enough being good enough, whereas perfect is a total pain and often not worth the trouble anyway.
This is where I come upon a scene in the editing process that's all wrong. I see I have to change the setting, the intent, the subject matter and maybe even the point of view, but I have no time to think through all that now. So I trim it up as best I can and allow myself to leave it, even knowing it's all wrong. That is very hard for me to do, but it's one of the things this writing to a deadline stuff has forced upon me. It's a good thing, I think, one that forces a certain kind of humility -- you've done the best you could in the time you had. That's all you can do. And if it's criticized for not being better than it is ... oh well.

Still plugging,

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

Check out this moving transcript of a speech on the signers of that document, who they were and what they lost: LINK


Monday, July 03, 2006

Young Bear

As a young dog, we decided to put Bear in dog training class, having had a taste of it with our previous dog, the schizophrenic German Short Haired Pointer. Remember I said that my husband picked Bear because he was so alert and aware? This was not a good quality for the dog training class.

From day one, he was the most hyper dog in class, noticing everything -- even small and insignificant things way across the park like an empty plastic grocery bag, an orange pylon, or a teeny little dog running around with its owners. He whined or bayed constantly, and with his big hound voice even as a young dog, this was somewhat distracting.

They say hounds are among the hardest dogs to train. They're very intelligent and their noses are amazing. And they don't give up. There is a reason "hounding" someone has the meaning that it does. When they are on scent, they get extremely focused. We've read stories of entire packs killed when they attempted to follow a scent trail through a moving train. Gruesome, but knowing them, I believe it.

One of the disciplines of training was to teach them to ignore distractions and always pay attention to the owner on the other end of their leash (great analogy to the Christian Life, there!) To that end, we were instructed to devise distractions for our training routines. Thus, having exhausted all the usual subjects, one day I took the dustmop, hung a coat around the stick, put a hat and sun glasses on the mop head then propped it up by the mailbox.

Oh my. That was a SCARY thing. He could not stop barking, and he hates the dustmop to this day! (Never know when it might suddenly grow sunglasses and a hat and start walking down the street, I guess).

Here it is when it's not in disguise...

When we used to take walks at 5 am, I had to make sure we gave the old lady with the cane and the little black dachshund wide berth. You would think it was Godzilla come to ravage the town the way Bear carried on. Of course the dachshund was doing exactly the same thing, but he was smaller, quieter and he wasn't pulling the lady's arm out of her socket as he hurled himself at the end of his leash.

Still Bear and I did not quit the class and won "most improved team" by unanimous vote (Yes, I even voted for us!). Even though he didn't pass. They had a dog show going on at the park on the day of our final exam and the long stay (lying down for three minutes off leash) was just more than he could handle with all those distractions.

Still plugging along. 3 1/2 chapters to go, yet, so the blogging may be spotty this week...


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