Friday, March 25, 2011

The News of the Week :D

Well, this is long overdue, but I've finally decided to share some good news with all of my bloggy friends out there. :D

Mr. Scott Appleton, founder and owner of Flaming Pen Press, and author of the book "Swords of the Six" will be coming to the Peoria Illinios area April 14th, 15th, and 16th. :D

Thursday, April 14th Mr. Appleton will be signing books at Hoerr's Berean Bookstore on Sheridan Road from 5:00pm to 8:00pm.  He will also be attending the Apache Home School Convention taking place on Friday, April 15th, and Saturday, April 16th at the Peoria Civic Center.

I hope that some of you will be able to attend. :D  I don't know how many of my followers actually live in Illinios, but I am certainly looking forward to meeting Mr. Appleton in person.  I will be posting updates in the future and will definitely blog about the event when it is over.

Hope to see some of you there!!! ^_^

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Some Fun Christmas Music in March. :D


I know I haven't posted anything in a while.  Actually, I've been downright neglectful.  :(  Which is why I decided to do something random and share some of the fun stuff I discovered today while procrastinating!  haha!

Today I was doing jazz research (which wasn't technically procrastinating, since the research was for a class. :P)  when I stumbled across this awesome Men's A Capella group called "Straight No Chaser" after Thelonius Monk himself.  The group is absolutely amazing, and My favorite songs are these two Christmas ones. :)  So good!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: The Charlatan's Boy

As far back as he can remember, the orphan Grady has tramped from village to village in the company of a huckster named Floyd. With his adolescent accomplice, Floyd perpetrates a variety of hoaxes and flimflams on the good citizens of the Corenwald frontier, such as the Ugliest Boy in the World act.

It’s a hard way to make a living, made harder by the memory of fatter times when audiences thronged to see young Grady perform as “The Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp.” But what can they do? Nobody believes in feechies anymore.

When Floyd stages an elaborate plot to revive Corenwalders’ belief in the mythical swamp-dwellers known as the feechiefolk, he overshoots the mark. Floyd’s Great Feechie Scare becomes widespread panic. Eager audiences become angry mobs, and in the ensuing chaos, the Charlatan’s Boy discovers the truth that has evaded him all his life—and will change his path forever.

My thoughts:  It's been a couple weeks since I finished this book, but I must say that I absolutely loved it. :D  Jonathan Rogers created a world that felt very real -- so real in fact, that it's easy for a mind to slip and think that this might have happened in our own world.  The swamps reminded me of the Louisiana area and New Orleans, and for some reason the plains and farming area made me think of Kentucky.  Of course, the drovers are as good as or equal to our Cowboys. (which are indeed called "drovers" I believe, or "cattle drivers".)  

I also loved the voice of the book.  The story is told in first person POV through Grady's eyes.  His speech reminded me very much of Mark Twain's stories about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  The voice is whimsical but real: very real.  And down to earth, but captivating.  I remember reading the first chapter online long before I had the actual book.  After reading the first chapter, I was absolutely hooked and knew that I had to read the rest of the book: it's not very often that such a thing happens to me.

And the ending!!!  I won't give anything away to those of you who haven't read the book yet, but there is quite a satisfying twist at the end of the book.  It makes you really think over some of the earlier events.  Take nothing for granted in this book: it all means something.

As far as rating goes, I give The Charlatan's Boy a 5 out of 5 star rating.

Yes, it was that good.

Adventure, fantasy, historic-type setting... it's chock full of interesting characters and the two MC's are always getting themselves into and out of difficult situations.  I definitely recommend this book to any people who like to read: it will appeal to many different types of readers in many different types of genres.

(this book was provided to me through Waterbrook Multnomaj press, a devision of Random House. I was not required to give a positive review: the views represented in this blog entry are entirely my own.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mock Cover Art Fun!!! :D

Have you ever hit a low point in your writing life, where you feel like you just can't type another word?  That's where I was a few days ago.  Then, as I was browsing through the blogs I follow, I came across a post in which the writer had put up a mock cover design for the book she was working on.  It wasn't that bad, either: sure, it was only a photo that she had put text over, but knowing her type of writing, it really fit.  She said working on the cover design helped her focus when she felt like she couldn't write anymore.  The next time she hit a writing low, she said all she had to do was look at the cover art and her urge to write perked up again.

So I decided to try the same thing, and for the past 3 days whenever I could find time away from life and schoolwork, I've been working on this cover design for "Song of the Daystar".  Now that it's finished, I am really, really happy with the outcome.  In fact, to be quite honest, I wouldn't mind for this piece to be the REAL cover art for SOTD... with, perhaps, a few tweaks here and there.  (Whenever the book get's published, that is).  Here's a picture of my finished work; tell me what you think:

Most of this was done with photo manipulation, but there was A LOT of painting involved too.  The sphere is (of course) the Daystar itself.  This piece is actually from a scene that is in the middle of the book, where Curron (my MC) first touches the Daystar and suddenly the stone comes to life with power, and Curron has a vision of the Creation.  Birds, deer, and water are all mentioned in the scene, so I wanted to try to depict that in the cover art as well.  

The scene in the stone is pretty much all photo manipulation with the deer, the birds, and the water all coming from different photos that I worked into the background with GIMP.  It took me a while to get the color just right for the scene in the stone, but I worked in three different layers and finally got it the way I wanted it: the bottom layer was set to normal, the second layer up was set to burn, and the next layer up was set to normal, and then put at 40.0 opacity. 

The hands were done slightly different.  They started as a photo manipulation of a free stock image I got of the internet, but then I decided to paint over them entirely because I liked the painted look much better than the photo cropped look.  So basically the hands were all re-painted using GIMP.  It was difficult to get them to look just right, and I've never been very good at painting hands, but I think they turned out pretty good.  Especially with the hight lights coming off of the Title letters, and the slight purple shading (yes, I'm gloating just a little bit, but I really am proud of this accomplishment... the picture turned out way better than I expected it to.  ^_^ ).

So anyway,  please let me know what you think of it.  I'm so excited!  Now I feel like I need to go write!!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Writing God into Christian Fiction

"Christian Fiction"

Now those are two loaded words.  Before we go any farther, let's take those two words apart, shall we?


1.  believer in Jesus Christ as savior: somebody whose religion is Christianity  

1.  christianity from teachings of Jesus Christ: based on or relating to a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Messiah, and acceptance of his teachings, contained in the Gospels  
2.  relating to Christianity: relating to Christianity, or belonging to or maintained by a Christian organization, especially a church, Christian theology, or a Christian school.


Any form of narrative which deals, in part or in whole, with events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary and invented by its author(s).

And if you combine the two definitions you get this:

Christian Fiction is categorized as any fictitious novel, story, or poem that expounds and illustrates a Christian world view in its plot, its characters, or both, or which deals with Christian themes in a positive way.

So now that we know what Christian Fiction is, the question I will then be addressing is how to incorporate such values into fiction in a way that displays aspects of God without feeling "preachy".

The first thing a Christian writer must realize when approaching such a subject, is that we humans, in our rather limited understanding of the spiritual realm, are essentially incapable of portraying all of the vast and glorious facets that make up God.  It is quite simply impossible for us.  In understanding this, we must also understand and admit to ourselves that in order to portray any part of our own knowledge of who God is to us personally in a realistic and believable fashion, we must give up any fantasies we have of portraying ALL of  what God is in any way.  This rule applies to  ANY setting, not just fictitious ones.

Why do I say this?  Because it is the truth.  We can't even begin to fathom or comprehend all that God is.  He is far to great and powerful, wise and merciful, gracious, kind, fatherly, stern, awesome and mighty for our puny human minds to handle.  He wants to be near us, but even in our quite time with God each morning, when we hear His still small voice whispering in our ears, He only reveals a small portion of all He really is to us or we would be so overwhelmed with His glory that we wouldn't be able to handle it!

So then.  After we understand this, then we must turn to the act of deciding what aspect of God we want to expound on, whether it be a moral, a proverb, a parable, a psalm, or even just an event from the Bible.  Of course, none of us will ever end up writing the same story or idea the same way.  For example I'd like to take a look at Donita K. Paul's "Dragon Keeper" series vs. my own novel "Song of the Daystar."  (Not a very good comparison, I'm sure, as Mrs. Paul has been writing far longer than I have, but still.)

For this example we are going to start by compare figures/characters that, on the whole, represent God in some form or fashion.

In Mrs. Paul's books, "The God Figure" (as it is often referred to) is called Paladin.  Mrs. Paul's MCs usually end up meeting Paladin in person at some point or another, so he is most definitely a living, breathing, physical part of the books.  He also affects the characters in a more direct way.  Having characters who experience physical contact with the God figure of a story usually stimulates a more "mortal" connection to said figure, including memories of actual physical encounters, direct emotional stimulus, and of course face to face encounters and conversations.  There is also the element of the five senses that can be brought into play.  Mrs. Paul's MC, Kale, meets Paladin on occasion and recalls her encounters with him several times throughout the books and several times she wishes that he could be with her during a crisis so that he could hold her hand and tell her what she needs to do.  She also remembers the love and compassion exuding from his being.  It's very touching, and portrays Jesus in a way that sort of makes me think of a hero... a noble knight who will ride out on horseback (or dragonback :D) to do battle with the enemy in order to protect his people, but who will also step back in some situations and encourage a person to make a decision and learn things on their own.  In essence, Mrs. Paul portrays God as approachable and loving, gracious, but protective of his people and fierce in the face of evil; all wonderful aspects of our all powerful, all amazing Heavenly Father!

In SOTD, the God figure is portrayed a bit differently.  For one thing, there really isn't so much a physical connection between God and my characters as there is a spiritual one that grows more over a period of time.  In my book, my God Figure is called Anahdor, and the story revolves more around believing in what is unseen and how the spiritual can effect the natural.  Of course, a person might not pick up on this connection if they were just reading the book -- unless, of course, I told them about the connection first. :D  My book is also about discovering how God works in a life, and it's about personal and spiritual revelation over the course of the story within and without of the church.  One main focus is the story of the cross (though told slightly different to fit the world in SOTD).  However, a major difference between my book and other books I've read that use the Easter story is the fact that, while the reader and my MC end up witnessing key points of the crucification and what that symbolizes, the event is witnessed in a slightly different manner than I think most readers are used to... (though I guess I could be wrong on that point).  In essence, I am trying to portray God as powerful in the everyday and portray the point that he cares for everyone of us, and has a calling for each of us, even when we think we aren't worth the trouble or the effort.  He loves us all and He can work through even the least of us to help bring other people into His kingdom.

(Well, that's what I hope comes across, anyway.  lol!)

Now, if we were to compare either of those ideas about God to the God figure in Wayne Thomas Batson's trilogy, "The Door Within", we would note that the High King in Mr. Batson's books also made a great sacrifice for his people, much like the story of the Jesus' crucification.  In Mr. Batson's books, we don't actually see the High King except once or twice when his presence is revealed and becomes almost overwhelmingly powerful (similar to different places in my book), but we do have characters that have interacted with the High King before he sacrificed himself for his people... so we also have that physical connection and memorable element of Mrs. Paul's books.

And then we have books that depict God as an animal:  Aslan in Narnia, Ruyah in Tebron, Albino in SOTS....

I guess the important thing to remember when trying to write God into Christian fiction is to first look at your outlook on God.  I know that sounds all sinister and impersonal, but it really is something to think about.  Analyze what you know of God and what He has shown you in your spiritual walk with Him.  Is there one point that shows up in your story more than others?  What is that point?  What does it represent to you, and then what does it represent to your characters?

As far as my writing goes, I've found that I can't leave God out of the book entirely... He seeps in, even when I'm not expecting it.  And anything I write that doesn't somehow, in some small way expound on one of his many amazing facets doesn't last very long... the story sort of falls apart in the middle and I loose interest.  It is very true.  

However, the spiritual elements of my successful stories are sometimes so subtle that I have to go in and analyze what these aspects are, how they relate to each other, and how they relate to my characters just so I can keep track of them.  Doing this also helps me get a better grasp on where my story is going and how certain events tie in with other events at a later date.  And never forget that it's always interesting to explore a different aspect of God than you have explored before... Take Nickolas from "The God Hater" for example... The whole point of "The God Hater" was (in my opinion) to explore what it must have been like for God to literally give up a part of himself to be killed in sacrifice for the people he created and loved.

So don't be afraid to ask yourself questions, and then ask God a few as well.  Pray about it.  Analyze what you know already and what you are learning in your daily walk of life.  If you do that and apply it to your writing, then you may discover that writing God into Christian fiction in a personal and graceful manner isn't nearly as hard as you might have thought.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On the Controversies of Religion

Eck! My history class is providing me with all sorts of controversial blogging material. Today we were discussing "The Great Awakening" and my teacher decided once again to instigate a class conversation on religion. It was very interesting to hear her outlook on religion compared to the class' outlook. We talked about the evangelical movement that grew in the south, and how it was that rural people were much more religious because they were less educated, where as people in the towns and colonies, being more educated, were open to the movement of ideas that were introduced. In essence, the Christians were supposedly averse to any type of change.

Ok, first of all, I wonder what her definition of "religion" is. And for that matter, I wonder what most of the class' definition is. Does anyone ever stop to think that perhaps it wasn't that Christians were opposed to change as it was they were opposed to the "types" of change… I mean, look what "change" has done to this world! We are now considering lesbian and gay marriage, a health reform, and now I've heard tell that here in my home state of Illinois, the public schools are fighting in government to be able to come into homeschoolers' houses to "approve" the curriculum! That completely goes against the very reason for Homeschooling… to GET AWAY from the public school systems! And then you have the economy… Sheesh! If you ask me, the type of change that has been instigated in this world from without church boundries has only worked to destroy the world.

In any case, this is my outlook on the definition of religion:

Religion is considered to be any sort of sever belief that has to do with a god or gods, or any other type of spiritual being, that might rule over a life or nature, etc… This all inclusive word would then include the Muslim beliefs, the Buddhist beliefs, witchcraft, and yes… even (sadly) Christianity and all of its denominations. Yet, if one were to think about it, superstition is a type of religion too, disbelief is a type of religion in its own way, and yes… even Atheism is a type of religion in the fact that it is a severe belief in NOT believing in ANY religion.

Do you see how hypocritical it is to try to single out Christianity in a debate on religion and use it as an example of hypocrisy? *shakes head sadly* And unfortunately, one small voice in a sea of controversial voices tends to get drowned out by the other noise.

Well, I'm putting this one out for debate: What do you guys have to say on the matter?