Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
I understand that many people feel uncomfortable reading a book which, on the surface, seems to promote things which are not of God. Fine. Don't read it. But don't judge others for doing so. And, whatever you do, don't allow yourself to spread negative propaganda from an Pharisaical position of ignorance. Instead, remember that the very stories Jesus told, (which were often incomprehensible at the time to his listeners),were nothing less than illustrations of Truth artfully hidden within Story in order to stretch the minds and hearts of generations yet to come.
I believe Fiction is a gift which the Holy Spirit can and does use--often. And fiction which is not published under the "Christian" banner/label/genre, seems to have the most potential for this life-changing infusion of Truth into the world.
Years ago, when the first movie of J.K.Rowling's series was coming out in theaters, my TV was filled with Christians coming out against both the films and the books. So, naturally, I read the first Harry Potter book, The Sorcerer's Stone, simply to see what the fuss was about and whether or not it was justified. When I closed the final page I was not scandalized, but rather, I was in tears, because of the Beauty and Truth I found within its pages. And... I was ANGRY at the Salem-like, legalistic fanaticism which fueled the controversies concerning this (and the following) books.
In a later book in the Harry Potter series, Ms. Rowling, I believe, answers this unfounded criticism with the minor character Pius Thicknesse. A laughable, metaphorical name, to be sure, I believe Mr. Thicknesse to be a comment to the anti-Potter crowd within "the church". I laughed out loud when I first came across this character's name and corresponding personality. It seems to shout to all the naysayers, "Duh!" (Of course, the naysayers wouldn't have read the book, so.... I guess it was maybe for the entertainment for those who have read the series and "get it.") Bravo, Jo.
The self-adapted phrase "don't be so heavenly minded that your mind is of no earthly good." seems appropriate here.
In short (yes, it seems a bit daft to claim brevity at this point in my defense of Fiction) I refuse to take seriously the negative "review" or criticism of a novel when such opinion is perpetrated by a person who has not personally read the work(s) of fiction in question. There is a certain aspect of mob mentality present when an individual succumbs to ignorant propaganda created by those who refuse to look beyond the fictional aspects of a novel to see the Beauty and Truth (both things of God) hidden in plain sight upon the page.
There is NO PLACE within Rowling's popular series where a protagonist or even minor character on the "good guys" team bashes or even remotely insults Truth or Christianity. There are times when, like all of us, they question the cost of doing what is right, but it is the evil characters --those who have sold themselves over to darkness and the love of power--who insult all that is Good and True.
Fiction isn't Truth--fiction is a mirror for Truth. Sometimes it is a pure reflection, other times it is a funhouse mirror or a cracked surface. But by judging a book by its cover (or title, or propaganda and rumor) we may just miss out on something which the Holy Spirit could use to give us a better understanding--and a clearer view--of Himself.
Even those books/movies/tv shows that bash Christians and Christianity, unfortunately, are sadly accurate mirrors of the Loud Voices of Hypocrisy & Legalism which have stained the label "Christian" into a laughable subculture rather than a living relationship of eternal significance. By association, these reflections have stained the name of Christ. Yes, I am angered when I hear these insults, but often on two levels. First: because the insult is driven into something which is True and, second, because it is likely driven as a preemptive action or defensive strike by someone (a writer?) who has obviously been hurt at the hands/words/deeds of someone claiming to carry the banner of Christ.
May God's Mercy cover us all. And may we, as writers, produce inspired works of fiction which not only draw the reader into our worlds, but, through the work of the Holy Spirit, ignite a passion for Truth within the areas of our culture--and our hearts--where a Lie has taken root.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Breathless, a novel by Dean Koontz,
is a story of second chances.
But there is nothing “simple” about this cross-bred science fiction/fantasy novel of suspense.
Koontz is a master of creating a sense of place and, even with this story, set in multiple locales with multiple protagonists and antagonists, Koontz's gift is spot on. The plot thread seems tenuous at times as the reader is tossed into a new place--into the thoughts of a new character--. But as the subplots twist and turn in on one another, a pattern forms from Koontz's seemingly chaotic prose. Within this crazy-quilt of a story, themes are introduced and explored without the reader realizing how each subtle thread has grabbed hold of--or caressed-- her imagination. After reading the final page, however, the beauty of the pattern emerges; and its imprint is destined to last long after the book has been shelved.
Koontz’s obvious love of animals plays a huge role in this novel. Contrasting the purity of an animal’s motivations to the complexity of a human’s, Koontz uses creatures, both known and unknown, to personify the gifts of wonder, innocence, faith, and acceptance while he deftly portrays human reticence—and resilience—to mirror the truth and consequences of such gifts.
With a myriad cast of characters (including a veterinarian who was abused as a child, a special forces sniper-turned carpentry artist, a pure-hearted Irish Wolfhound, a corrupt and sadistic political aide, a do-gooder physicist, a poet and his wife, a homeless alcoholic with tendencies toward violence, and a pair of heretofore undiscovered creatures), Koontz explores the miracle of creation and the concept of eternity from each vantage point. Without stooping to proselytize tired theological arguments, Koontz places before the reader a Puzzle and a Riddle--questions with answers; pictures in pieces; parts of a greater whole--and leads the reader to grasp unspoken conclusions through the power of Story.
I instantly fell in love with several of this book’s characters, particularly those of a furrier species. But I must admit that there was one particular character that made me uncomfortable; a character whose storyline caused me to question if Koontz’s writing had been diverted, or corrupted, rather, from its artful course by the current trend in fiction toward sexually-driven villainy.
To be honest, the scenes visualized through Henry’s point of view made me squirm. I didn’t want to see into his sadistic, deviant mind; I didn’t want to hear thoughts about who he’d like to store in his potato cellar and why. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why Henry was included in the book at all. Near the end of the novel, when he finally does come into contact with another, kinder character, the scene is so brief that I ended the chapter thinking: “Really? That was the point of suffering through Henry’s madness with him? That’s it????” At that moment, Henry's inclusion seemed little more than a writer's device--or a sensationalist marketing tool. But, as is so often the case when you decide to trust an author, I was rewarded for making the choice to continue to suspend my disbelief for just a little while longer.
When I closed the book and took a moment to mix and digest all the various subplots and character arcs and resolutions, I realized that Henry was necessary. And that, as an artist who shows multiple dimensions of Theme, Dean Koontz had no choice but to include this character in his novel of second chances. Like viewing the negative of a photograph, we see, through sick, nasty Henry, that second chances are a GIFT—and when misinterpreted, or gained through ill means, it is not an authentic gift but, rather, a curse. I won’t include a spoiler other than to say: It doesn’t end well for Henry. And that made me happy.
As always, Dean Koontz kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the reading of this novel, but it wasn’t the intensity of the prose which moved me so much as the seed-pearls of wisdom and beauty so innocently--and seemingly randomly--placed. As my brain spun in an attempt to digest chaos theory, multiple storylines, and an overarching theme, I was both challenged and thoroughly entertained. As is almost always true with this amazing author’s work, Breathless made me think about deep and unsearchable things; things which are brought more clearly into focus only when fiction mirrors truth.
Yes, Breathless is a story about second chances. But it's also a tale of mystery and beauty; a complex weaving of concepts such as creation and eternity with those of wonder and innocent faith. It's a sparkling golden passage through a dark wood where, if the reader allows herself, she can be awed by the discovery of patterns of the Divine within apparent chaos.
No, there is nothing "simple" about this novel--but there is much that is True.
...and plenty to leave you BREATHLESS with wonder and wondering--long after you turn the final page.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
There are times when guilt hits me out of the blue with a poisoned dart; when the voice of discouragement whispers in my ear that the writing life is one of supreme selfishness.
Because it is.
Yes, I try to hold to a schedule--some days more successfully than others. I turn on the computer when the kids go out the door to school and turn it off when they come home. Most days. But in the meantime, in those too-quickly-passing hours spent in that Other World, there is not much I am doing to benefit my family or the world at large.
But, I argue, I must also serve my calling! How can I attend to the basic, mundane functions of running of a household (laundry, dishes, meal planning, grocery shopping, vehicle maintenance, etc.) when my mind is so fully engaged elsewhere?
When I am deep within a story, so deep that my soul is rent and my very hearts blood appears upon the screen, my vision tunnels to all else.
I suppose that is rather selfish.
That my writing has yet to make a significant financial contribution to the family makes this "career choice" seem self-serving. That the need to acquire books, training in the craft, and attend conferences actually causes a financial burden to the household makes me cringe. Who, besides me, is benefitting from these hours spent extracting the venom and honey from my soul to the screen? Well, no one... yet. Perhaps, with a book contract in hand and an advance on its way I wouldn’t feel that this pursuit is so utterly hedonistic—so self-serving.
But then again, I have to remind myself, even without a paycheck, writing is cheaper than therapy.
So this is the cost of my calling—my passionate pursuit. To live with the knowledge that even if a contract never materializes, even if only my friends and relatives and those I pay for professional editing services ever read the completed novels, I have to keep writing.
I really don’t have a choice in the matter. The stories must be told.
Today is my kids’ last day of school. So here I sit, just shy of 8 am, still in my pajamas, with a hot cup of the Nectar of Inspiration. Today’s creamer choice is White Chocolate Mocha. I’m banking on it working for me, helping to keep the flow… eventually. First, there is a phone call to make, an appointment to keep, and a shower to take—not necessarily in that order. There is a dishwasher to unload and reload, a breakfast table to wash, and a dog to walk.
Perhaps by noon I will make my way back to this disorganized, paper and book-strewn desk; back to my soft brown chair and my tin of Godiva Pearls--dark chocolate with mint--and a fresh, steaming cup of the writer's ambrosia, brewed extra bold. I will power up my computer and lean in to sniff the air like a hound. I will rediscover the trail I was forced to leave off from yesterday and, when I catch its scent, I will immerse myself in a few precious hours of hedonism; a few beautifully aching hours of traveling to that otherworld where Fiction Mirrors Truth.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
If procrastination were an art form, I’d be its most sought-after Diva.
The internet snares me sometimes; okay, often. What begins as “research” or “networking” turns into mindless surfing to avoid the glaring blank page I should be focused upon. Today, however, the page hasn’t been blank. It hasn’t glared, it’s grinned. Because it's been filling up with words.
Yesterday’s mindless surfing--as I waited to get my groove on--resulted in a visit to cafepress.com where I viewed lots of funny stuff—t-shirts, posters, etc., which made me laugh and then, unexpectedly, made me close down my Google Chrome and GET BACK TO WORK! You see, I saw this inspirational mug. I know, silly. But go with me on my wave of procrastination. It said, “The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written.”
There are two conferences I would love to attend—would love to have fresh, finished, polished manuscripts to present to editors—but my characters have been strangely silent the last few weeks. Or perhaps, just perhaps, they’ve been screaming and I’ve just tuned them out. One manuscript is over half-way complete, the other, about one-fourth. I know how they end, both of them. Point A and Point D are clear in my mind. It’s that stubborn Act II—those Points C&D which have my knickers in a twist. So I keep going back and polishing what I’ve already written rather than adding to it. My word count goes up and down, but stays within a range which accounts for precisely zilch… NO FORWARD MOTION!!!
Until yesterday, when I happened upon that quote.
“The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written.”
And that forward writing motion has continued into today. Thanks to not wanting to sit in a smelly shop and wait while my tire gets fixed, I’ve written a book review, finished the new scene I labored over yesterday, and almost have another new scene completely ripped. I feel good. Yet I’m still procrastinating on that blooming tire.
Good news, however. I have the next two days off work. I have a 10,000 word goal this week, and I’m sitting pretty at over 3,000 gloriously unedited words of first draft material so far. Also, I have obtained the newest Kristen Heitzmann novel, INDIVISIBLE, from my friends at Amazon.com, which I can take with me to the smelly tire shop.
When all else fails, make sure you’ve got a book handy.
Perhaps this is the story of my life—always putting off something to focus on… something else. Sometimes my procrastination has a purpose—a respite from stress, a step back for reflection, a bandage for the bleeding when what I’ve written has sucked me dry.
Today, however, I’m writing and putting off what I should be doing. You see, my minivan has a flat tire. Seriously flat. As in, I-almost-got-stranded-at-Wal-mart-yesterday flat. I need to get it fixed because there are piano lessons tonight and I’m the only available chauffeur. I’m procrastinating on getting my tire fixed. I know. Stupid. But look at all I've accomplished through the art of diversionary tactics!
But, alas, I have to get it fixed in time to pick up my kids. In exactly two hours.
What am I still doing here?
Oh. That's right. Procrastinating.
(*Some aspects of the narrative below have been changed—but keep in mind that fiction mirrors truth.)
THE DEMON KING
When I reserved this title at my library, I didn’t really think twice about how its title might affect other Believers’ opinions about me if they saw me reading it. In all honesty, the title didn’t give me a single moment’s pause until, while reading, a Christian friend interrupted my bliss.
“Whatcha reading?” He looked at the graphic on the front, an amulet featuring a coiled serpent hanging in the forefront over a back drop of a fog-drenched mountain range (yes, it’s cool), then tilted the cover so he could read the sideways capital letters which proclaimed the author’s name and, larger, the title. “THE DEMON KING.” His lips moved across the syllables and, with a quick intake of breath his eyebrows flew to his hairline and he pulled his hand away from the book jacket as if it had burned him.
Heh, heh, heh.
(That, my friends, is the sarcastic sound of my internal monologue’s “sucka!” laugh. With just a tinge of my evil laugh thrown in for good measure. Perhaps I should have written it “Heh, heh, heh--bwuah-ha-hah!”??)
Internally, I chuckled (see above) and rolled my eyes, thinking, “Here we go….” and prepared to get out my GREAT DEFENDER OF FICTION soapbox to stand upon. Externally, however, I just replied, “Wild title, huh? I love this author. I’ve read all of her books.” And went back to reading. Probably a good call, because sometimes all the soapboxing in the world is not enough to overcome a person’s prejudice.
I have read Chima’s other works, (The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, and The Dragon Heir) and was excited to see a new title by this exciting “new” author. I love being pulled into an alternate reality via a fantasy novel, and Chima has yet to disappoint me.
THE DEMON KING is a great, eye-catching title for a fantasy buff--but a little bit misleading. The Demon King is a colloquialism for legendary Queen Hanalea’s husband who went a little wacko and ended up causing a bit of mayhem. But his story isn’t really THE story.
(And, yes, in case you were wondering, a certain 1970s folksong came to mind each time I read the legendary queen’s name—also the name of a mountain in the Queendom’s geography--. Most of Chima’s intended audience, however, are too young to remember that particular dragon and the name of the land in which he originated.)
As I was saying before Peter, Paul and Mary distracted me, the story itself does not belong to the title character, it belongs to three young characters, Han, aka: Cuffs, the reforming former leader of a street gang, The Princess Heir, Raisa who is being courted by a young wizard as a means for the wizards to regain their lost power in the Queendom, and Amon, Raisa’s childhood friend and bodyguard.
Chima’s former books took place within a magical sub context of our modern world, but THE DEMON KING is pure genre fantasy—the beginning of an epic tale which happens in other time, another place, another reality. With a thoroughly visual cast of minor characters, including mages, warriors, metalworkers, street urchins, and royalty, each with his or her own distinct voice, Chima’s world-building talents have come into their own in this first installment of The Seven Realms series. And her main characters? Love ‘em!
Han, aka “Cuffs”, aka “Hunts Alone” depending upon the company he keeps, is sixteen and tortured by his past, his duty, and the tragic “bad luck” which has seemed to grab hold of him as tightly as the irremovable silver cuffs which have encircled his wrists since infancy. He’s all boy and all teenager, but with the hard-edged maturity and skill which comes from fighting for survival in the streets. Han feels as if he has no place in the world and, after a near-disastrous run-in with a couple of cocky young wizards in the forest, he steals a magical amulet, eschewing the young wizards’ warnings of its power to kill him and secretly takes it for himself and hides it away. When its owner realizes the amulet has been lost, everything and everyone Han loves is put in mortal danger.
Princess Raisa has just returned from being fostered by her father’s clan in the mountains. Skilled in metalwork as well as some warrior training, Raisa is bored to tears sitting in the palace and attending to her mother, The Queen’s, insistence on proper education—all of which seems trite and meaningless to this girl who longs for adventure. During Raisa’s training with his clan, her father has also been absent from court and Raisa is troubled by the way the Queen has changed in his absence. The Monarch seems to be all-too-well acquainted with, enthralled, as it were, with the High Wizard, her most powerful advisor—a man who gives Raisa the creeps. As Raisa’s sixteenth birthday arrives, and her official naming as the Crown Princess with it, suitors line up for their chance to have influence over Raisa’s throne. One of those suitors is Micah Bayer, the son of the High Wizard, but his suit is forbidden—which makes him all the more diverting to Raisa. But Raisa is loyal to the kingdom and has no desire to marry Micah, nor anyone else at such a young age. She plans much more adventure before settling into the political life. The princess's quest for adventure and meaning leads her straight into Han’s violent path.
It could be argued that Amon is a minor character, but Chima spends considerable time building his importance in Raisa’s life, in the past, present, and future and also intersects Amon’s comings and goings with Han and, through that, Han with Raisa. Although we do not get to know Amon as thoroughly as we do Han and Raisa, he is a loyal and romantic character and it is clear that he will play a major role in future Seven Realms Novels.
I hope people of faith will not judge this book by its title and allow their children to read it. Put aside your fear and give it a chance. Read it for yourself and see there is no danger to your soul. THE DEMON KING is a tale of good vs. evil, of light vs. darkness, of power and corruption vs. goodness and bravery. It's an epic of personal transformation. To write this book off due to preconceived notions—prejudice—based upon its title is, in my opinion excessive bigotry and cowardice. Come on, people! Bravo to Cinda Williams Chima--a gifted storyteller who writes with the restraint and freedom due her audience. Give this author a chance and I doubt you will be sorry. There is nothing morally offensive within her books. (If you find something that trips your prude-o-meter, however, please do let me know so I can practice rolling my eyes.)
My recommendation? Read THE DEMON KING with caution… not because of soul-endangering content, but, rather, because you will be tempted to let the dishes sit in the sink and the laundry to build up in the basket until you turn the final page. And, lest you get the wrong idea, please be aware that you will be frustrated at the end. THE DEMON KING is a new release in a new series… and the last page leaves you drooling for its sequels.
Let Ms. Chima tell you more in her own words. Watch the book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEtfteO-9dU