Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Life Threw Down the Gauntlet (Subtitled: I’m going insane!)

Just in case you didn’t get the reference behind the title of this post, to “throw down the gauntlet” isn’t like the saying, to “throw in the towel”.  They sound similar but mean totally different things.

To throw down the gauntlet is actually a way to issue a challenge, and the action (as well as the phrase) originated in medieval times as a choice way for knights and lords (etc…) to challenge each other.

To throw in the towel means to give up.

For me, life threw down the gauntlet, and after picking up the challenge, I sometimes wish I could throw in the towel.  But of course I’m too stubborn and determined to do that. :P


If you thought this blog post was going to be some great informational thing, you were wrong… this is me rambling and typing stream of consciousness as fast as I can in order to maintain my sanity… because if I don’t do this, my sanity will fly out the window.  It will.  It’s already threatening to do just that and I’ve done everything short of physically chaining it to my leg in order to keep it under control. 

That, and I’m currently running on 1 ½ hours of sleep.  :P  My Music Theory 1 composition was due this morning, and of course I would decide to get creative, don’t ya know?  I started work on the composition weeks ago, but it’s really difficult to be creative and stay within a series of rather strict rules.  You can’t break any of them without getting marked down, so you really have to be kept on your toes… Yeah. 

This is what my composition sounds like: 

I would show you pictures of the composition, but I had to hand in the original to my teacher…  luckily for me I still have the rough draft… which is exactly the same as the “nice-n-neat” version, only sloppy.  Unfortunately I don’t have a camera to take a picture of it.  I put the notes of the composition into my computer’s dictation software after theory this morning and saved it as a PDF and a WAVE file… but I’m not at my computer right now so my access to pictures is non-existent. :P  The WAVE file only works because I downloaded it earlier to Soundcloud. ^_^

Let’s see… what else is happening in my life?  Oh… that Nano thing I tried???  EPIC FAIL!  Yeah, I probably wrote about 10 words and then life just decided to run me over with a proverbial bus.  So much for that idea…  I have homework due tomorrow that I am currently avoiding (but will not be able to avoid for much longer if I want to pass my classes this semester).  I also have voice juries next Friday (not this Friday, thank the Lord!) and need to finish memorizing my German piece. 


My “NEED TO READ” list of books has grown, of course… one of my classes this semester is speed reading, so that’s helped a little as far as chipping away into the living and ever growing pile of literature taking over my room…  but it’s barely dented the thing.  I have book reviews that I need to post and I just haven’t had a chance to write them… I mean, sure, taking five minutes out of my time to type up something stupid and rambling like this blog post is nothing, but sitting down to write out a thought provoking and truthful book review is another thing entirely.  If I’m going to write about the book, I should do it justice…

What I’m doing now – this thing, right now, that I am doing at my computer – is not justice.  It’s not even “just nice”… it might be “just”, but even that is pushing it. Lol! :P  Books deserve better than the half-crazed ramblings of a lunatic, and if I were not a lunatic at the moment, I would give them the better… but I don’t have it right now.  I lost it and I can’t seem to find it, so they are just going to have to do without until I remember where I put the darned thing. :P

There are other things going on in my life – big things!  Things I want to shout to the world and let everyone know about because I am so, SO excited about them!!!!  But similar to how books deserve better than my mad murmurings, I’m not going to talk about those things on here just yet… I need to be looking, sounding, and feeling better (and preferably more professional) before that happens.    But the news will come soon!

And let’s see… what else?  Oh, I picked up on the commissions I’ve been behind on… over Thanksgiving break I started working on them again, but school started again Monday and so they’ve once more been put to the side .  :P  JUST TWO MORE WEEKS!  I’m more than ready to finish up these commissions and send them off – I know that the authors who have hired me for them are ready for me to do that as well – but my concentration is split in so many different directions right now, with finals coming up and trying to make sure that I actually pass my classes (which is looking scarily unpredictable right now), and there’s also been the big things that I want to tell you about but won’t… anyway, there has been so much going on (mostly with school, though) that I simply can’t balance it all.  To those of you who commissioned me for art, I know I’ve said this before, but please bear with me: IT WILL GET DONE! 

It will… I swear it will.  But I have to be able to think straight first… :P

And the Hobbit is coming out DEC. 14… The HOBBIT…. THE HOBBIT!  I think the publicists might have planned that simply to see how much more crazy I could handle.  Seriously, they were like “Oh, she’s already almost insane… let’s see what might happen if we prepare something for her that she will absolutely freak out over.  Her stress levels can’t get THAT much higher.”  Lol!  I don’t know, I don’t know… all I know is that I’m totally stoked for the release and I hope to make it to a midnight showing… I really, really want to go to a midnight showing!  It’s going to be epicness, I’m sure!

Is there anything else, now?  Have I vented enough?  I know I’ve said a lot, but is that everything???

Well, there IS more, but I’m actually starting to feel better for having done this.  I think I might even feel better enough for me to stop typing now.  At least my hands aren’t balled up in fists around chunks of my hair anymore, and I think my breathing may have evened out some… this is quite therapeutic!

Anyway, I will stop boring you, my friends, with my crazy talk now.  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I hope you will have an amazing Christmas to go with it!  Hopefully things will clear up in my life much sooner than I’m expecting them to (that would be wonderful!) and I’ll be able to join the blogging world, a complete human being once more, and not some half brain-dead zombie from the academic underworld. :P

Farewell!  God bless you all, and happy writing!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NanoLand a Week Late

Hello friends!

I haven't blogged since September, and yes, that is probably the longest I have ever gone without posting to this blog  You may wonder WHY I have been gone for so very long, and the answer is... well, mostly school.  It's been crazy.  Free time has been practically non-existent, and when it is existent it's dedicated mostly to homework.  With that in mind, you are now probably thinking that I must be crazy to try and tackle Nanowrimo in the middle of everything else.  You would be right... but that is not stopping me!

Now, technically, I'm not doing Nanowrimo the "right" way this year.  Instead of starting with a brand new novel that I've never worked on before, I'm following Wayne Thomas Batson's lead and working on the re-re-rewrite of Song of the Daystar.  And instead of starting the story at the very beginning, I'm starting at the second chapter... and I'm starting today.

Yeah... *sigh* Nano has officially been going for 8 days now, and I am going to start today... tonight, actually.  Probably at home... if I can find somewhere quiet to work. :P  My starting word count is 9,212.  I've been stuck on Chapter 2 now for MONTHS and it just hasn't been moving forward... so now I'm going to see if I can jump into Nano late and actually get something DONE.  If I actually make it to 50k I'll be lucky, and extremely happy, but I'm personally going to be aiming MUCH lower... I would like to hit 20k or 30k new words by the end of the month. With my writing life going as slow as it has been, I don't think that's too much to ask.

And so, in honor of this crazy but satisfying decision, here's an excerpt from the rewrite of SOTD.  Only one person has seen any of this rewrite before... so here goes nothing. *gulps*  Feel free to tell me what you think of it. ^_^



36 Súlor, 1394 AB

The wind smelled of death, change, and fear… but mostly fear.

Djar’zla inhaled deep, gazing out from the cliffside past the desolation of the Hoarfrost Mountains to the southern horizon and the lands that lay beyond.  The winds came from that direction, thick, wretched, and filled with the cloying scent of pain.  They swirled about him, tugging at the ancient tatters of his frayed dark robes, snagging the long, thin strands of black hair still left on his balding pate.  High above the bite of the jagged peaks, a cloud of great black Corvus wheeled in droves and cawed out a single, solemn word: “Doom!”

The corners of Djar’zla’s mouth twisted upward in a vicious grin as he drew in another deep breath.  So… the Ealyone were suffering.  Dark satisfaction welled in his chest.  They would pay dearly for their crimes against him, and their blood would slake the earth.  It had been ages since he last felt the wind or saw the real sky turn grey with predawn light; ages since he beheld the mighty peaks of the Hoarfrost or heard the roar of the great waterfall gushing out into the river called Hoara’s Rush.  For centuries he had lain bound in darkness deep under the wastelands of the world, forced into a slumber of nightmares and death by the words and the blood of the Ealyone’s kings.  Their anguish now could hardly count as penance for his misery, but their grief brought with it a penchant both bitter and sweet.  Bitter because it was a sharp reminder of what he had once been and was no longer; and sweet because it meant that they were in torment – they were breaking.

Djar’zla said the word once, tasting every syllable – every letter – as it dripped off his tongue.  Breaking.  Oh, the Ealyone were such fragile things!  Dust and water, mud and rain.  If you dropped them hard enough, they cracked open like a porcelain vase, and once broken inside their minds were malleable as a lump of clay.

They called themselves human now.  It was a new word, a curious word – one Djar’zla had never heard before and he rolled it around on his tongue weighing its merit.  No doubt the word had been invented by one of their learned men… what were they called?  Scholars?  Djar’zla chuckled.  They were such funny little creatures, the Ealyone, calling themselves one thing or another, as if that would make any real difference.  Their minds were just as fragile now as they’d been two thousand years ago.  Soon they’d have no more use for petty words; he would make sure of it.

Looking to the skies, Djar’zla barked a command to the Corvus overhead – “Nrythkai!” – and one of the larger birds wheeled away from the rest to land at its master’s feet.  Once come of a noble race, the creature now before him looked little more than a reanimated carcass, albeit a vicious one.  Large black wings wrapped around its body, rank and oily.  Feathers – matted, frayed, and falling out in clumps – clung to skin that barely covered the bird’s skeletal structure. Dagger-sharp teeth jutted out of its beak at odd angles, and long, scaled legs stretched down to razor talons that clicked ominously against the stone.

But the eyes… the eyes were the most revolting, the most unnerving.  A masterpiece so flawed in its making, even Djar’zla could not stare at them for long.  Irises of deep red, dark as a thick pool of blood, almost black; and pupils – each a narrow slit like those of a snake or a cat – glazed over by clouded, lifeless grey, as if the mists shrouding the serrated peaks of the Hoarfrost had seeped in and couldn’t find their way out again.

The bird shifted uneasily before him, sensing its master’s dark mood.  It feared what might become of it should Djar’zla prove aggressive.  Djar’zla closed his eyes as the bird’s dread washed over him. He always knew the emotions and thoughts of his creations, could sense them like a snake tastes the air.  Fear was always strongest, followed closely by hate.  He cared little for the latter; what did it matter if his creations hated him, so long as they obeyed him?  But fear…  

Such a fitting emotion, Djar’zla thought, allowing the sweet sensation to engulf him.  The bird’s terror was like sugar on his tongue.  He smiled down at it, satisfied.  Fear is a worthy gift to give one who holds the power of life and death in his palms.

When he addressed the bird at last, he made no attempt to hide his loathing.  His own creation or not, the bird was disgusting.  “Gather your strongest flyers,” he said.  “I want to know the truth behind the rumors on the wind.  Find out why the Ealyone suffer – discover their torments – and report the cause back to me.  It may be we can use this to our advantage.”

The Corvus cocked its head and gurgled something in its throat – a long, unintelligible line of syllables locked together in some form of attempted communication.  A question?

Djar’zla sneered.  “I don’t care,” he growled.  “Stealth is of no consequence in this.  Let them see you and cower in fear, but be swift.  The time for action draws near, and you will not make me miss such an opportunity because of indolence!”  He lashed out with his foot, catching the bird in its ribs.  Squawking and scrabbling, the creature scuttled backward, flapping great dark wings until it lifted from the precipice and soared back to its brethren circling above.

Djar’zla watched the skies until a group of the giant black birds separated themselves from the rest of the flock and turned south.  Inwardly, he seethed.  It was a ridiculous paradox that he was forced to rely on them for news of the southern realms; that he, the mighty Djar’zla, had fallen to such depths.  Of course the creatures couldn’t understand what he meant when he spoke to them; they were too dumb for that.  They could make out words – maybe a few syllables – but the true meanings behind those words escaped them.  It was only their bond to him – the bond between creator and created – that allowed him absolute control and access to their mental pathways.  They were pathetic.  Absolutely revolting.  Dark, defiled, and crippled creatures with no true will and with minds twisted beyond any point of return.  They were the imperfect works of his dark genius, purveyors of his misery, and now his only cracked and fogged up window to the outside world.

The irony was not lost on him.

Scowling, he turned away and faced the mountain of his bondage.  In its side gaped the sinister mouth of a cave, a fissure torn from the very fabric of the mountain’s stone and left to bleed its poison on the world.   Jagged pieces of rock hung from the fissure’s top and jutted from its bottom, like the bared fangs of a Baldhoara Beast preparing to attack.  From deep within the darkness of the mountain’s open maw, a sound of groaning – of strong wind – rose up and was spewed out from the giant orifice in a puff of air.

The mountain breathed.

Djar’zla stepped forward as the breeze from the cave brushed the dark strands of hair away from his face.  The corners of his lips twisted up in a grin.  With one last look at the pale morning sky, he squared his shoulders and marched straight into the blackness of the mountain’s waiting jaws.  And the mountain swallowed him.

Djar’zla needed no light to tread the path that wound from the cave’s mouth deep into the bowels of the earth.  He had walked it many times since his waking.  With one hand placed on the cold stone wall as a guide, he plunged deeper and deeper into the void, turning corners and skirting obstacles with ease.  Here he ducked the lintel of a tunnel entrance; there he skirted a fall of rocks that had tumbled down in the dark to seal the mouth of a cavern or passageway.

There were many ancient riddles, many dark and sacred mysteries that lay hidden in the deep places of this mountain – his mountain.  Centuries of knowledge stored up, far beyond the grasp of mortal minds.  Miles and miles underground, the fissure that was the gate into the world’s core stretched out and became giant caverns and catacombs – mausoleums threaded with crystal and precious metals; chambers where wild and strange beasts roamed, where the dark miasmic juices of the world conjoined, and where evil breathed as a living entity.

The Ealyone had forgotten it, were forbidden to enter it; it was a place no living mortal man had ever willingly set eyes upon, and for centuries uncounted, it had been his prison, secluded and abandoned in the range of the Hoarfrost – a fitting crypt in which to bury what once had been known as truth.  While he’d slept, the mountain’s belly had been his bondage, but now that he was awake again, it became his sanctuary, his unbreachable fortress.   It was here, within the bowels of the earth’s dark catacombs that the makings of his retribution took on flesh.

Djar’zla turned one last corner and stepped into the familiar giant cavern – his destination.  Unlike the other chambers of the underground world, this one had torches lit and burning in sconces spaced along the walls.  In the center of the room, a long flat pedestal of glassy black stone rose out of the floor and burned with the reflected light of the torch flames.  Djar’zla knew that pedestal intimately; every minute pock and every invisible mar.  During the years of his bondage it had been his bier, shackles of its living stone binding him to its surface.  Even in the nightmares, the pedestal had been present, a constant reminder of his captivity – a constant reason to hate.

But now there was a new figure on the pedestal.  A weak one – a female.     The silhouettes of bones poked through the milk-white skin of the Ealyone’s bare torso, and a film of fevered sweat covered her body in a glossy sheen that left damp patches on the thin linen coverings around her waist and upper chest.  Clumps of lank dark hair that once had been long, thick, and attached to the creature’s head, now lay around her like a beast’s shed coat.  The shackles of stone that had held Djar’zla captive circled the new occupant’s wrists, ankles, and neck, securing her to the pedestal’s surface.  The creature didn’t fight against them.  Couldn’t.  Her eyes were closed.  When she breathed, a terrible rattling sound rumbled in her chest – the sound of a living being about to die.

A cruel smile lifted the corners of Djar’zla’s lips.  Oh, how ironic for her!  She could never have dreamed the consequences of traveling through the Hoarfrost by herself, could never have known what her mere presence would accomplish.  After all, so many years had passed since his binding that the story of it was now only legend and myth – a fireside tale to frighten children and awaken bravery in young men’s hearts.  It was because of her that he was lifted from the tangle of enchanted nightmares and brought back into the waking world, and he was forever grateful; she had walked into the mountains of her own free will, and in so doing had secured her doom.

Cupping his hands behind his back like a schoolmaster about to give a lecture, Djar’zla stalked forward and addressed the pedestal’s captive.  “It is now begun.  The line of the Old Kings is failing, and soon the curse laid upon me will be broken.  All thanks to you, my queen – my brave little champion.”  He laughed, the echo resounding through the cavern, growing longer as it bounced off the walls.  The woman on the pedestal never opened her eyes, but Djar’zla detected a catch in her breath.  She was awake, however hard she tried to pretend she wasn’t, and he knew that his words cut deep.  “It is now only a matter of time,” he continued, “and we have plenty of that.  The one good mark left upon me from the curse – I have learned patience well.”  

This time she did open her eyes, but their dark brown color had faded from years of ill treatment, the pupils misting over as the whites grew bloodshot from gazing into darkness.  She stared at the ceiling, never even tried to look at him.  It was this stubbornness that annoyed him most, for whenever she spoke, her words were directed at him, but she never once, in all her years underground, acknowledged his existence with her eyes.

“Your words have no substance,” she croaked.  “Whatever daemon you are and however powerful you may be, these mountains still hold you captive.  They are your chains.  Or why else are you still here?”

“To gloat,” he offered.  “To rub your folly in your face.  It does my soul no end of good to watch yours break in pieces.”

She drew in another ragged breath.  Soon the effort of speech would drain her body of strength, but he admired her audacity.  It would be fun to watch her finally fall apart in the end.

“My soul is not broken,” she managed at last, “Only my body.”

“Your body may be all that’s needed to break your soul.  Pain is a powerful persuader, and the mind will often betray the heart.  You will break eventually, my queen.  Your kind always does.”  

The woman’s chest shuddered and spasmed as she drew in her next breath, forcing her words through clenched teeth. “What you seek cannot be found in this cavern, Djar’zla.  Beware.  The blood of the Old Kings is far from ending.  Your reign will fall.”

And there she went again, speaking like a curséd Sibyl!

Djar’zla scowled, the torch lights turning a venomous green with his mood.  “I don’t care for your riddles, witch,” he hissed at her.  “Your tongue is more problems than it’s worth.”

A dry, croaking laugh exploded from her throat. “Riddles?” she gasped. “Riddles!” And her laugh broke into a rattling cough.

Striding up to the pedestal, Djar’zla placed his palms flat onto the black stone and leaned forward until his face was directly over hers.  She closed her eyes again.

“What do you know?” he hissed into her face.  “You are keeping something from me.  I recognize the curse of Sibyl.  I know your type.  Tell me what it is you see, or I will force it from you.”

 Her lips pursed into a tight line.  She did not reply.

“Then so be it.”

Slowly, without emotion, Djar’zla let the power from his core seep into the stone.  A scream ripped from the woman’s throat as her body arced in pain.  Blue electricity sizzled over her arms and thighs, wrapped itself around her torso.  The few clumps of hair left on her head burned to a cinder and fell to the pedestal’s surface in ashes.  It took so little effort to torment her, so little energy, that he felt it a shame to cut the ordeal short, yet he needed her alive.  She was the key to his freedom, after all; he had yet to find the lock, but once it was found, he still needed the key.

Cutting the flow of power, he watched her body sink back to the pedestal’s surface, a charred and blistered, unconscious mess.  She was strong, admittedly, but he could see her breaking.  She was Ealyone, after all – dust and water, nothing more.  They always broke in the end.

At the cavern’s entrance, he turned back to survey the room one last time.  Each torch that fell under his stare sputtered and went out until only one still burned.  Before he extinguished it, he let his gaze linger over the emaciated body of the woman.  “You are wrong,” he whispered to her.  “The old king is dead, and his son is young and reckless.  The winds speak of torment and betrayal in the southern realms.  My reign is only just begun; mountains will fall before it ends.”

And as he turned and left the room, the last torch sputtered out, plunging the woman into darkness.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A few quick updates. :D

Hello my friends! :)

Some of you may remember that a few months ago I posted about a new blog I had started, called "Aspiring Endnotes", in order to talk about publishing - publishing advice, articles, things I've learned along the way - in a way that didn't make me constantly feel like I was blaring self-promotion all over this blog.  Here's an excerpt from that post:

Some of you are probably wondering why I would set up a separate blog for that, when I could just post everything here at the P&P. But the truth is, every time I posted something about Magpie Eclectic here, I felt like I was self-promoting – advertising. That’s not really the purpose of the P&P, so I thought I would set up a separate blog for that sort of stuff… for talking about publishing through the eyes of one who is learning how to become a publisher. This blog here (the P&P) is for my personal journey as a writer… the Aspiring Endnotes blog is for my personal journey as a publisher. I’ve found that I look at the world of writing and publishing through different eyes, depending on which subject I’m working on, and which role I take on as I’m working on it (writer, or publisher). So I feel like it’s just better to have my two views on the subjects separated... to keep them from getting mixed up. :)

Well, today I officially opened my "Aspiring Endnotes" blog with an article about writing query letters.  If you are curious about it, you can find the article here.  In this article, I talk about some things I've learned through research and trial and error while working on my own query letters, and I also talk about several issues I've come across while reading query letters and acquisitions from authors who have submitted to Magpie Eclectic Press.  I hope this article is helpful to you. :)

Please note, however, that this blog is not currently the blog linked to through the Magpie Eclectic Press website.  However, I'm working to get that changed. ^_^

Thank you everyone!  Happy writing, and God bless,

Nichole White

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Sneak" by Evan Angler -- A Book Review

In a future United States under the power of a charismatic leader, everyone gets the Mark at age thirteen. The Mark lets citizen shop, go to school, and even get medical care—but without it, you are on your own. Few refuse to get the Mark. Those who do . . . disappear.

Logan Langly went in to get his Mark, but he backed out at the last minute. Now he’s on the run from government agents who will stop at nothing to capture him. But Logan is on a mission to find and save his sister, Lily, who disappeared five years ago on her thirteenth birthday, the day she was supposed to receive her Mark.

Logan and his friends, a group of dissenters called the Dust, discover a vast network of the Unmarked, who help them travel safely to the capital city where Lily is imprisoned. Along the way, the Dust receives some startling information from the Markless community, opening their eyes to the message of Christianity and warning that humanity is now entering the End of Days.

When the Dust finally arrives in the capital, it seems that all their careful planning is useless against a government that will do anything to bend its citizens to its will. Can the gentle words Logan has found in a tattered, banned Bible really stand against the most powerful military the world has ever known? Can Logan even sacrifice his own freedom, choosing to act through faith alone?


My thoughts:

First of all, before you read my review on "Sneak", you might want to read my review on "Swipe" here.

Quite honestly, I wasn't sure if I wanted to pick up this book after reading the first one... the first book was intriguing and interesting, but for me it was slow to get into and easy to put down. However, I decided to pick up this book anyway because the first book did show promise. I was happy that I did decide to read "Sneak" because I wasn't disappointed. Personally, I enjoyed "Sneak" more than I enjoyed "Swipe". "Sneak" wasn't like my experience with the first book. Instead, I found "Sneak" to be instantly engaging from the beginning. I was drawn in and held there through the entire story, and ended up finishing the book in a day and a half. :D

Our character, Logan, is slowly growing into his new role as a member of the Dust... but he's not the only one. His friend, Erin, is also learning and growing; she's discovered some things about the Mark and DOME's other experiments having to do with the Global Peace Treaty that have put much of the population in serious danger... and this information is so secretive that no one else knows about it, even though it is slowly killing them.

In the meantime, the Dust are going to the Capitol in order to find Logan's sister, Lily, who disappeared after her Mark ceremony five years earlier. To do that, they've acquired help from The River, which isn't actually a river at all but a group of unmarked people (and a few sympathetic marked people too) working together to help other unmarked people find resources and get around the country. Sort of like the Underground Railroad around the time of the civil war. I really liked this turn of events... while there seemed to be less gadgetry in this book, the unmarked also showed more creativity. For example, in the style of the Underground Railroad, the people in The River used special signs to help travelers and other unmarked find their way. There are signs for leaders, safe-houses, supplies, rides, and even danger, and the signs are not always what or where you expect them to me, which helps to keep The River hidden (even if it is known about) from the marked population and DOME. The unmarked also show their creativity in how they build make-shift radios, have set up their own society under the very nose of the marked population, etc... so, less gadgetry, but just as interesting.

There was also a twist at the end of the story... I'm still not sure how that twist effects the rest of the story yet, but I'm looking forward to reading the next book and finding out. :D There were other things in the story that I found predictable... I'll admit to having anticipated the twist at the end before it happened, but I did not predict how the twist was delivered. And besides, I suspect that this is partially because I read A LOT of books in similar genres, and write in these genres myself.

All in all, I liked this book better than the last one. It was faster paced, and for me, definitely more engaging. So for this book, I'm going to promote it by a star from my last review, and give "Sneak" 4 stars out of five. I definitely look forward to picking up the next book in the series. :D

For those who are interested, here's an intriguing article from the author concerning music:

Evan Angler’s Infinite Playlist:

Music, I think, is an important pillar of the creative mind. And as an author, it’s an equally important part of any book. It doesn’t matter what the writing is about, and it doesn’t matter what the story is; writing is music. Our words have rhythms and cadence, our sentences make melodic lines. There are fast sections, slow sections, loud paragraphs, quiet paragraphs. Good writing, for me, lights up my brain much like good music does.

This relationship, of course, goes both ways. If writing informs music, then it stands to reason that music must also inform writing. Certainly, I’ve found this in my own experience. With my first book, SWIPE, I wrote almost everything either in the dark, or on the run, in the motion of electrobuses and boxcars, with my hood up and my oversized headphones on. For some of that time, indeed, my focus demanded quiet. But for much of my writing and drafting and thinking, I was immersed in a blanket of music. Loud music. And I found that its genre dictated the writing’s tone. With SWIPE, my musical selections often gravitated toward electroclash, a genre I didn’t even know existed until I found myself craving it for the underscore of SWIPE’s scenes. Often, I’d play the music so loud that I needed to stuff my ears with tissue paper, because I liked the feel of the heavy beats hitting my brain, pushing me forward, relentless, unforgiving…. The gritty, electronic timbre of the music just seemed to belong with the tech-filled but flawed world of the American Union, and the energy conveyed by that music–both in the faster and in the more somber selections–captured for me the sense of foreboding, anxiety, excitement and, ultimately, determination that Logan feels over the course of his journey.

SNEAK, on the other hand, called for a very different sort of sound. In trying to capture the setting and mood of the Unmarked River, I often found myself gravitating toward pre-Unity bluegrass and folk music, another genre that had never captured my attention–until I the writing called for it. The acoustic guitars, the banjos, the fiddles, the harmonies…in many ways, SNEAK is about the loneliness and uncertainty of venturing out on one’s own, of a search for simplicity and truth. In a world of high-tech stakes, the Dust’s journey through much of SNEAK is practically of a different era. Horse rides, hiking, camp fires, radios…after the events of SWIPE, Logan is truly an outcast, and there’s just no place for him in the more modern world of the American Union. What better way to capture that then with the oldest traditions of music that American history has to offer? Bluegrass and folk, there’s nothing else like it.

The third book in the Swipe Series has yet another soundtrack altogether. I can’t wait for you to hear it, and to discover all that its soundscape implies. But that is a story for another day, and that is a playlist for another time….
So if you’ll excuse me, I have some headphones I need to find…

Here's the book link to Amazon: "Sneak" by Evan Angler

And for those of you who would like to read more reviews on this book, here are the links to the other blogs posting reviews on this tour:

ADD Librarian •

Blooming with Books •

The Book Fae •

Book Nook 4 You •

Bookworm Reading •

Christian Book Review Blog •

Heavenward Reviews •

Jill Williamson •

Labor Not in Vain •

The Maniacal Bookworm •

Oh, Restless Bird •

The Pen and Parchment •

Reviews by Jane •

Shadow Writer World •

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Dragon and the Crow -- A book review

Wow... it has now been over a month since I have blogged anything. :P That is a bit ridiculous... But with school, and work, and everything, life has gotten a bit crazy lately so I had to take a step back and breathe... lol! :)

So, over a month ago, I mentioned that I had several book reviews coming up that I hoped to be posting. Here is the first one.

A couple of months ago, I was perusing through a book forum I had found online, and I came across a thread that allowed authors to post about their published books and offer copies for review. I immediately started to browse… (do note that in this particular instance, my use of the words “perusing” and “browsing” mean different things… ;D) I soon came across a couple of books that caught my interest and, curious about them, I clicked through to their amazon page. Of course, I read the samples provided. Good writing! I was definitely intrigued. The best part was, on the forums, the authors were offering to send physical copies of the books to reviews, rather than just offering e-copies.

That was enough. I definitely wanted to read further, so I emailed the authors and asked if they would like to send me a copy of their books in exchange for reviews on my blog and on amazon. They said yes. SCORE! Especially since both authors were from overseas… one from Australia, and the other from the U.K.

The first book came in the mail about two weeks later. It was from the Australian author, and it was called “The Dragon and the Crow”. Interesting title and nice book cover. There were some things in the blurb I wasn’t sure about, but I decided to read it anyway and see what it was all about – besides, I had agreed to read it, and so far it had captured my interested. So, to start this review, here is a picture of the cover, and from there I’m going to launch straight into my review… and we’ll see if I can’t explain things in a way that others can understand. Lol!

And here's the book trailer... it's quite good. :D

My Thoughts:

Ok, to begin, this is probably going to be one of the more complete reviews that I’ve ever written. I’m going to start with the complexity of the story through the characterization of the characters involved.

The first person that I’m going to address is Brin. He’s the main character in the book and his problem is one relatively unique (in my own opinion) from other fantasy stories that I’ve read. You see, Brin is the only magicless person in a world where everyone can not only use magic, but does use magic every day.  However, Brin can’t even work the simple magics that turn on the house lights or work the oven, and that’s sure no picnic in a place where everyone is expected to be able to use such simple things. Life is hard for a kid with no true magical abilities, but what Brin can’t possibly begin to understand is that he is actually the key to winning an ancient war the whole world never realized was being waged.

You see, in Brin’s world, there is a story of how an ancient champion first defeated the dragons and the elves and the dwarves, and made it so that humans would be able to use magic as much as the ancient races. In the process, however, the stars were wiped from the sky. Now, in Brin’s time when everyone can use magic equally (accept for Brin himself, of course), there are rebels rising up that blame the king and his line for the loss of the stars. They call the king a tyrant, and in the book they follow a woman who believes in a prophesy that says that it will be a magicless boy that will defeat the tyrant, bring back the stars, and save the ancient races from dying out all together. The king has named this woman a witch and has convinced everyone else that she is such, and is very dangerous to the peace of the kingdom. The fact that the woman is dangerous is not even a question… but evil?

Until we near the end of the book, we don’t know much about the woman who is the king’s enemy. She is known throughout most of the book simply as “the Witch”. Nearer the end of the book, however, we actually get to meet her, at which point in time she and her followers try to explain things to our main character, Brin. Their explanation is that “The Witch” is not that at all, but the legitimate daughter of one of the first kings of the land – so technically, she’s actually a princess. How she manages to live so long is a long and complicated story that I won’t go into at the moment, but what is important to know about her is that the king’s wife died, and he married another woman who bore him a son. The King’s second wife was, I believe (following true fairy-tale style) an actual witch who wanted her son to take over the throne, instead of the rightful heir who was the king’s first-born daughter, and so she sought to kill the king’s daughter. The princess was taken into hiding by one of the old king’s advisors, and protected, but the witch-queen’s son ended up taking over the throne… and he was, in fact, the king that ruled in Brin’s time, hundreds of years later… but again, that’s a long story. As “the witch/princess” explains to Brin, her true aim is to throw down the tyrant king who stole her father’s throne from her, and to restore “magic” back to its proper state in the world.

The reason I decided to explain all that, is that you can start to get a feeling for the complexity of these characters and their backgrounds. The character of “the witch” in this story, is not what she seems to be… nor indeed, not what most of the people in the story think her to be. While the king, who at the beginning of the book is seen as a savior-type person, protecting the human race from the ancient races and distributing magic evenly throughout the people of the kingdom, turns out to actually be the villain… a usurper who is ultimately evil at the core but very cunning about hiding it. All the king actually wants is the power that comes with controlling the source of magic throughout the realm, and he is willing to do almost anything to get and keep that power, even going so far as to deceive his own sons in order to have them willingly work for him in his plans to destroy the “witch”. Brin comes into the story because neither the king’s plans, nor the witch/princess’ plans will succeed without the aid of a child who has no magic… and Brin is the only child like that in the world.

Then, of course, as we dig deeper and deeper into the complexities of this story, we have The Hen. His name is actually Henry, but he insists on being called The Hen. The Hen is a man who used to be a rebel on the side of the witch, but who since went bad and decided that, rather than further either the witch/princess’ side of the battle, or the king’s side of the battle, it would be better if he were to just take everything over himself. The book actually opens with an appearance of The Hen, but surprisingly enough, we don’t see a whole lot of him throughout the book… that, however, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t play an important role (as is found out nearer the end of the book… I’m not going to spoil the surprise if you decide to read it.)

What I found to be most intriguing throughout the book were the character interactions and deceptions. For instance, you have the King and Brin. The king obviously has ulterior motives that are not in Brin’s best interest, and yet Brin has been taught all his life that the king is a good guy… a savior type person. The king, of course, makes no attempt to disillusion Brin, especially since it is in the king’s best interest to use Brin to the boy’s own destruction so long as the outcome of that destruction is the king winning the war and gaining the power that he wants.

Then you have the King and the Witch. The king has told all of the people of the land that the witch is evil – and because of this, the people believe his deception that he is actually the good guy. So, from the beginning, the witch (who apparently is not a witch or evil) is seen and thought of as evil until later in the story.  Even the book blurb says that she's evil... that she wants chaos and the king's head on a stake.  But is she really like that, or is there something more???

Then we have Brin and the Witch. It starts to get really complicated when we later are actually introduced to the witch through Brin’s point of view. I still haven’t figured out entirely if she is supposed to be good or bad, or what… or if she’s just using Brin to her own gain, even as the king is using him. By the time I got to that point in the book, the knowledge that I had gleaned about her was so scrambled and torn between what Brin used to know and what he was learning, that it was difficult to decide where the woman was actually supposed to fit.  Good?  Evil?  Somewhere in between?

I'll give the author this: he sure does know how to make complicated characters. :D

Then you have Henry and Brin. Henry seems to be the real villain of the story in the beginning, but as the story unfolded, I began to wonder what part in the story he really had to play. He originally captured Brin because he was going to use Brin to somehow release the sleeping Dragon King… which, of course, terrified Brin out of his wits. But it was never made clear how the Hen’s actions actually affected the overall plot… although I assume that might be made more clear in future books.

And then, of course, we have Henry and the Witch. Henry was originally another magicless boy who the king had seduced and tried to use, and who the witch supposedly saved. He had become the witch’s apprentice, yet apparently something went terribly wrong. Somehow, Henry went bad and decided to take his own side in the war… he wanted to wipe out both the witch and the king, and to set himself up as king instead.

Now, couple this information with what you know of the History of the world. You soon learn that you can’t trust what you know of the history, because both sides have a story, and both sides think they are right.  What most citizen's learn of the history of the world is from the king's point of view... but is the king's point of view the RIGHT point of view?  That’s one thing that Brin starts to question when he meets the witch… how much of the history that he learned as a younger boy is actually true, and how much is deception? The whole idea of it becomes warped and confusing. However, one thing that I felt was very consistent in the book was the fact that we never really learned much about the history of the world to begin with. What we do learn of the history of the world is minimal, and later our ideas of the truth behind those stories becomes distorted... which actually works towards the author's plans, in my opinion, because as we watch the sides of good and evil flip, it is easier for the author to change the stories that make up the history of the world; in essence, if the original history isn't so complicated, it's not nearly as complicating to change it for someone else's point of view. :)  But I will admit that it got a little confusing.  Even Brin starts getting confused, when he finds out that either side of the story could possibly be true in the eyes of the one telling it... and that all depends on who the teller is.

Did I mention at the beginning of this review that this story was complex? Yeah, well, I meant it. *whew!*

Now, I’m sure you are wondering what my true, personal opinion of this story actually is. So here goes.

The read was interesting but not overly so. I usually read several chapters at a time, curious to see what would happen next, but the material was so… “dense” (for lack of a better word)… so full of details and plot turns and character workings and world building that it was hard for me to read more than a little bit at a time. When taken in small measures, I found I could process the information a lot better if I would just put the book down and think through what I had read. There was action, of course, but it wasn’t really fast-paced action and, when coupled with the information infused within the whole story, it made the story a bit of a slower read for me. I had to wait and let things “sink in” before I could start reading it again. For that reason, I found that I could put the book down for several days, and then, when I picked it up again, I would read a few chapters and have to set it down once more in order to process everything.  All in all, a pretty good read.

And now, do I have any other thoughts on the matter? Why yes… yes I do. As you have probably been able to tell from my review this far, I thought that – as a fantasy story in and of itself – this book was actually quite good. Technically speaking, there was not a whole lot for me to pick on.

 However, coming from the perspective of a Christian reader, I did have some personal issues with the story that made me feel slightly uncomfortable...

1) The frequent use of the word “witch” was a big red flag for me.  Even though everything ended up not being how it originally seemed to be, the word itself just bothered me... even though, yes, I knew it was going to be in the book. The term became even more confusing when the lady who had been called a “witch” for most of the book, was suddenly (supposedly) not actually a witch at all but one of the good guys, and when the king was suddenly revealed to be evil – confusing. Good for plot, perhaps, but confusing. It was the cause of a lot of grey area… what was evil, what was not, who was who…? You get the idea.

2) Though I admired the author’s thoughts on turning the tables with magic being a much more common entity in a fantasy story, rather than it being a gift or special power or some such thing only bestowed upon a few, what really worried me was the way that the magic was invoked.

When I think of magic, I think of the Chronicles of Narnia and Aslan; in my books, “magic” is often referred to as something else – a supernatural gift, if you will, bestowed on a person by God (or whoever my God-character is). I’m very careful with how it is portrayed and how it works when I write things like that into my own stories… and quite frankly, I’m really not the biggest fan of stories that use magic by way of spells and other such incantations and chantings. I will admit to having a few such books that I enjoy (*sniff* Tamora Pierce is awesome... just sayin'...)  but most of the time I just don't read that stuff.

Still, I will admit that I like the idea of an ancient commanding language – such things, in my mind, are feasible, since words are so important to God; after all, God spoke and the world was. But the thought of chanting or saying something in verse or some other form of a spell in order to invoke magic of a person’s own free will… that isn’t right in my mind. Only God has control of such things, and He needs no spells, chantings, or incantations to work His wonders… if He grants a person a “Gift” or a means by which to work a miracle, that’s not magic… it’s supernatural, and it’s from God.

 I also wasn’t sure how I felt about “magic” being so extremely common that EVERYONE could use it. It may just be a preference of mine, but I don’t really like the thought of it being so… so ordinary.  Cool idea, though... but then again, my thoughts in this particular instance are just personal opinion. :D

So basically, the story in and of itself – simply as a fantasy story without trying to go any deeper than that – seemed well thought out and put together, and it proved intriguing to me as well. It seems that the author definitely had some good thoughts here, and he worked hard to put the world of his story together in a complicated and complex pattern, in order to make it seem more realistic. Ultimately, I would say it is a good story, in a general sense – thought provoking, intriguing, and a fun romp.  And the ending REALLY put a new spin on things... makes you curious about how the story continues.  I'm not going to give spoilers about that here... if you are truly interested, you'll just have to find out for yourself.  ;)

However, as a Christian reader, I feel that there were many aspects of the story that pricked at my consciousness and spirit in places. For that, I feel that I must warn other Christian readers… especially young Christian readers… that they should be careful about picking up this book UNLESS they are ok with this type of a read and what it entails. Just my own little disclaimer there.

Still, I can’t help but admire this author’s world building skills and his creativity with producing an intricate and complicated plot, not to mention intricate and complicated characters. For those I will give him credit - lots of it. :D

For the other… well, there’s not much I can do about that. Sorry.

On a much lighter note, the author made the map for the story himself, and from one artist to another, I must say I think it looks quite awesome. ^_^ He definitely gets two thumbs up for that. :D

Signed with a flourish,
Nichole White

(Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the author and was not required to write a positive review.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Writing "Christian" without writing "CHRISTIAN!!!": Symbolism and the Christian Walk

Hello bloggy friends,

First of all, if I know anything, you are probably wondering what I mean by that title.  We'll get there, I promise. :)
       As some of you have probably noticed, right now there is a big subject going around the blogosphere that has really brought up arguments on writing “Christian Fiction”… the topic has been known mainly as “Why Christian Fiction Doesn’t Work”, and as it is, I’ve already written two blog posts on the subject myself.

            What I find most interesting about this subject is how controversial it is.  One person believes one thing, another person believes another thing, and everyone wants their side of the story to be heard so they all start debating the point.  No outright fights, of course… we are all too civilized for that. J  But every one of us, me included, has entered the debate at one point or another to try and make a statement on our beliefs concerning the subject.

            Now, let me make something crystal clear: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ENTERING THIS DEBATE!!!  In fact, I find it admirable.  I see nothing wrong with writers – especially Christian writers – defending their writing and their belief systems.  And besides, this blog post was not written to be condescending, or to point fingers.  What was stated above was merely an interesting observation I had made that I wished to point out. :D

            With that said, however, I would like to continue the discussion going on here at the P&P on why I think “Christian Fiction”, as it is being defined in today’s world, doesn’t work… or actually, why it often isn’t working now.  This isn’t a discussion about why it never works, because goodness knows, I’ve read some pretty AWESOME books in the Christian Speculative Genres, and I don't plan to stop reading those genres anytime soon… but then again, I’ve also read some pretty uninteresting and mediocre books in those genres as well.  And that’s when you have to stop and ask yourself why those books aren’t working?  Why are they falling flat?

            First of all, one must ask oneself, what exactly is Christian Fiction?  The way we often define it in today’s world, Christian Fiction is fiction being written from a Christian World View.  Ok, ok... I get that, no problem.  For many writers, this means that Christian elements should be obvious – sometimes blatantly so (sometimes even right smack up in your face) – within the writing and story itself.  It is my experience that in some cases, Christian writers try to make their writing appear Christian with the use of prayer within the story, a single creator entity that usually represents God, belief systems similar to modern day Christianity, and even the use of a sacrificial someone that usually represents Christ... symbols within the story referring towards the Christian belief.

            Now, there is nothing wrong with the use of these symbolic elements.  Where we go wrong, I believe, is when we start to believe that the use of these elements alone is what makes a book “Christian”.  But the truth of the matter is that these symbolic elements, when placed in a story without conviction and the leading of the Holy Spirit, don’t reveal truth, but cloud it instead. 

            For instance, prayer alone, without conviction, is useless… it’s like repeating random words over and over again, but never meaning them, or perhaps never even knowing what it is you’re saying.  Even Christianity itself is meaningless without the conviction of what it stands for and what we believe in – truly believe in – as Christ’s followers.  The truth behind what we stand for, what we believe, and what that in itself represents, is what gives purpose to the word.

            I mean, no one can try to force God into a story.  God was not meant to be shoved in a box, or into a story… He can’t be controlled just because someone wants him to be.  And Just because the symbolism is used, doesn’t mean that the truth is evident, or that it’s even there.  Without the conviction and passion for Christ that should be evident in such symbolism because of the conviction in the story’s writer, the whole story will fall flat.  It’s as simple as that.

            The real truth of the matter is that it all comes down to a person’s walk with Christ.  As Christians, our love for God and His Truth should be evident in everything we write, and not just because we use symbols that are pertinent to the Christian faith.  It should be that even if we took those symbols out of our stories completely – even if our stories were never stamped with a “Christian” label, and even if we weren't even trying to write the book from a Christian perspective – elements of Christ would still be evident to our readers, and witness to the fact that we are Lovers and Followers of Christ.  

            Yes, I said even if those symbols were taken out of our stories completely.  I meant it too.

            If an artist’s walk with God is strong, it will be visible in her painting no matter what that painting is.  If a singer’s walk with God is strong, it will be heard in her song and her choice of songs.  And if a writer’s walk with God is strong, it will be read in her stories... with or without the symbolism that is so visible in so many Christian Fiction stories of today.

            One of my favorite quotes ever on this subject was written by C.S. Lewis.  He said, “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christian’s on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.

            You might think this is an interesting quote coming from the man who basically wrote the definition on what modern Christian Speculative Fiction is.  After all, he is most famous for his creation of The Chronicles of Narnia, children’s fantasy books that not only took over the market when they were first released in the 1950’s, but that are continuing to do so now.

            However, I want you to take a moment and think about the Chronicles of Narnia.  Oh, Lewis used the symbolism… or at least some of it.  But in truth, his books never seemed to scream at the reader, “I am Christian fantasy!  I have an important Christian message that you must listen to!” as I’ve seen other books under the Christian Fantasy label do.  They aren’t blatant about their message.  In fact, I only remember two points in the book that actually referenced prayer at all – the first in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Lucy called to Aslan while they were lost in Dark Island, and the second in The Last Battle when Tirrian called out to Aslan to send him Narnia’s Helpers from beyond the end of the world.  And those instances only lasted a few seconds.  And the two biggest symbolic events referencing Christianity within the entire series are when Alsan sacrificed himself for Edmund’s sake in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and in The Last Battle when the world ended.

            In truth, many kids don’t even pay attention to the symbolism to begin with – at least not the first time around.  They read Lewis’ books because they are fun to read, never mind the fact that the author wrote them from a Christian perspective.

            No.  C.S. Lewis originally wrote his books as a fairy tale, and the symbolism just sort of fell into place.    I read once in an article by Douglass Gresham, Lewis’ step son, that Lewis wasn’t even aware of Aslan’s presence in the story until the great lion just showed up; apparently Lewis had been dreaming about lions a lot at the time, and from those dreams sprung the figure of Aslan.  And, as some of you might care to recall, Lewis’ books weren’t originally labeled as Christian Speculative Fiction, and that wasn’t necessarily their original market either.

            For that matter, Tolkien’s famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, was never actually meant to be allegorical from the author’s own confession.  And yet just look at all the Christian symbolism within his books! 

            The choices within the story don’t have to be cut-and-dried.  The symbolism doesn’t have to be blatant.  It never had to be.

            The truth is that it shouldn’t matter what the story is, or how it is written, or what it is labeled as.  If the author’s walk with Christ is where it should be, the story itself will witness to the reader.   If the author’s walk with Christ is where it should be, the symbolism will fall into place unintentionally as it is inspired by God and the Holy Spirit, and not because the writer feels the need to use symbolism in order to get his or her point across.  If the story is inspired and led by God, then it won’t fall flat, the symbolism won’t feel forced, and God won’t be shoved into a box simply so that the story can be labeled “Christian”.  It won’t matter if the book is in the Christian market or in the Secular market, because if the story is truly inspired by God, it will witness to its readers of the author’s walk with Christ and the Truth of God’s love without being blatant and without the aid of a Christian label… much as Lewis’ and Tolkien’s books did.

            Because when we are walking straight with God, we don’t have to be intentional or right… we simply have to write.  God does the rest.

(Just a heads up to you guys, I'm working on another post on the subject of World Building and Character Choices within Christian Spec-fic. J  Hope to see you there!)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cultural Belief Systems and Christian Speculative Fiction, Take 2

Hello blogger friends. :D  This is going to be a rather long post – one of the longest blog posts I think I’ve ever written – so if you get through the entire thing, I commend you!!!

I’m writing this post because I think I might need to clarify what I meant in my last post.  Reading through the post again, and reading through the comments, I start to realize that the true purpose behind my post was not understood the way I hoped it would be (I think perhaps I beat around the bush a lot before actually trying to come to the point).  Hopefully I can clear it all up in this post. J

Before you read this post, however, I think it would be a great idea if you headed on over the first post and read through the comments.  A lot of the comments touched on what I originally meant for my post to portray, but they worded it better. ^_^

And now, ONWARD! :D

First off, I’m going to use part of one comment left from my last post.  It had some very good points in it. :D

 Philip Nelson said...

First off, there aren't moral shades of grey. Anyone who thinks that hasn't seen Good (or has refused to). (See how Job repented when he saw God, for instance, or what happened when Daniel came face to face with the glory of God.)

What makes it complicated is that Evil is the counterfeit of Good. That's the original sin: Lucifer thinking in his heart that he could make himself like God.

But God is incorruptible, and outside God things wear out. So, one way to tell whether something is good or evil is durability: in the long run, evil always wears out; good never does.

Philip has some very good points.  First off that there aren’t any shades of grey in morality.  Actually, this was pointed out in several of the comments from my last post, not just in Philip’s. 

Don’t worry guys!  I don’t believe there are shades of grey in morality, at least in the morality that I perceive.  That really wasn’t the point I was trying to get across.  Morality doesn’t deal in grey… only in black and white.  The problems come when Morality is placed into a religious belief… and before you guys jump all over my tale because I said that, wait a couple of minutes; I will explain. :D

It is quite simple.  Morality, as with all other aspects of human nature, can be distorted from its original purpose when it is tagged on to a belief system, or even to a personal belief or outlook.  Take murder for example… Murder is considered a morally wrong act – a vicious act of death.  Why then is it considered an honor in the Islamic society for suicide bombers to not only take their own lives, but to murder hundreds of innocents in the process?  In that case, murder is not considered morally wrong by the suicide bomber… it is considered an act of honor and valor, even though the rest of the world may see it as a horror. 

Morality, as with any other aspect of human nature, can be twisted from its purpose.  What is right and wrong can be skewed so that what is wrong can be seen as right… thus creating the “grey” I was talking about in my last post. 

But, as Philip mentioned, God is incorruptible. No matter what any of us believe, the Truth that is God is absolutely and 100% incorruptible.  Morality aside, what is true with God is ALWAYS true, and any truth that is not with God is not a truth at all, but a falsity.

Now, I have no problem with Christian writer’s showing this in their books.  In fact, I encourage it; there need to be more Christian books out there dedicated to showing this truth. 

The problems come when writers try to make it all TOO evident – when the right and the good is so evident that there is no point in choosing the wrong at all.

“Well,” you say, “That’s the point, isn’t it?  To have readers understand that they should choose the good over evil?  To make it so that the characters understand that they should always choose what is right over what is wrong?”

Uh… no, actually.  Well, yes… but no.

You see, I’ve read so many books like this, it’s not even funny.  I even started writing one and one point in time, but I stopped.  These are the books where the right choice is almost easier to follow than the wrong choice… which, in reality, is almost NEVER the case. 

Here’s another great Comment from my last post.  (I really do suggest you go and read the full comments… they are very thought provoking. :D)

Nathan Petrie says:

…What a lot of Christian Spec. Fic. tries to do, is present this in the clearest way possible: black and white. Because the world actually IS black and white, even if it's hard to see sometimes. There is only one right way to salvation and one right and one wrong. As for faiths, Christ is right, and everything else is wrong. That is a two option choice--Christ, or something else. Therefore, a lot of Spec. Fic merely simplifies the choice to show the ridiculousness of believing anything else. 

I agree with most of what Mr. Petrie’s saying, except for that last part…. Where he says that most Spec. Fic. merely simplifies the choice to show the ridiculousness of believing in anything else.  THAT is where I think most Christian Fiction writers are going wrong.  I’m not saying we should blur the lines between what truth is and what lies are, but simplifying the choice isn’t going to help in my own opinion.

Why?  Because the choice isn’t simple at all.   The choice to Christ may be right, but it’s not a simple one.  And following Christ is certainly NOT easy.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~ Mathiew 7: 13-14

The bible says it clearly: Those who enter by the wide gate and follow the easy path to destruction are many.  The people don’t even realize that they are on their own way to destruction.  What is difficult is choosing the gate that is narrow and walking the path that is hard.  Very few people enter through this gate.  

And why?  Because the choice between the Truth and a lie, between right and wrong, is certainly not simple.  The wrong choice is easy from the get-go, though it ultimately leads people to a dark end.  However, the right choice… the right choice is often paved with hardships and apparent troubles; it can be difficult to follow; a person may stumble a lot.  And yet this path is the one that leads to true freedom, and that is because it begins with the right choice… with Christ and salvation. 

Now, I would like to go back to my last post, pull a few things that I had touched upon, and use them to explain what was originally supposed to come across from my ranting. I understand that my purpose wasn’t clear last time, but hopefully I can make it clear now. *sheepish smile*  

I said:

I AM saying that I’m tired of Fantasy worlds where there are multiple cultures and races but only one True belief system for all of them; all the characters believe in One Ruling God (no matter their culture or race) and in one evil entity, and all the good characters are trying to work together to overcome the bad ones.  There may be some neutral characters, who don’t really take a side, but they still know that the sides are there to take and there is almost not middle ground.

I stand by this statement.  It pretty much sums up what I was saying earlier… that in many Christian Fiction books the choice to right is often SO clear that there is hardly a choice at all.   No matter what race or culture the characters come from, they all believe in the One true God (which isn’t true of humanity in this world, and almost never was unless you go clear back to the very beginning of the world, or even to the time after Noah).  And in these books, only the Evil Character and his minions are bad, and his minions are either just smaller parts of him, or characters that he forced to be evil.  And of course, all the good characters are trying to overcome the bad characters so that the world can be made perfect again.

There’s a key word in there, though: forced.  I’ve seen the technique used before with “evil entities” and other characters’ free-wills.  It doesn’t work.  And WHY doesn’t it work???  Because within the law of free-will, neither God nor Satan can force a human to do anything.  Humans can force other humans, but God will not force his people to love or obey Him – they have to choose to do that for themselves.  And Satan may be able to manipulate the thoughts and minds of men, but he can’t force a human to do anything they didn’t ultimately choose to do themselves.

Satan can, however, and often does lead people mentally astray… THIS is what has built up the many different cultural belief systems of the world today.  Satan was able to convince Eve in the Garden that God had not actually meant that she would die should she eat of the forbidden fruit, and so Eve ate of it.  And ever since that day, Satan has worked to discredit the actual word of God… he has built up his own followers and they are scattered all over the world.  Some of them don’t even realize that they are not actually following the truth, but are instead part of one great gigantic lie!  A lie that spans ages, generations, and many differing belief systems… all of them originally clinging to some form of truth, and all of them ultimately failing and falling in the end. 

And let me tell you something; all these different belief systems and cultural histories by no means make the choice to Christ any easier to find or to follow.  Each one of these belief systems claim that they are the only way to the light; they all think that they are right and they all claim that they have the truth, but Christ said that there is only ONE way to Truth, and that is through Him.

So then why do writers try to make the choice SO evident, when it is CLEARLY not?  I mean, part of what makes Wayne Thomas Batson’s “The Door Within Trilogy” so good for middle graders to read is the fact that all of the characters had and made their own choices; they could CHOOSE to follow the light, or the dark, or remain neutral, but they HAD to choose.  And often times, choosing the dark seemed the best answer; there was lots of money to be had, and power, and food, and wealth…  It was not easy to be part of the “good guys”.  In fact, it was often much harder to be good than it was to be bad. 

It’s like that in real life too.  

This is what I was trying to get at when I was speaking about adding multiple cultures and belief systems to Christian Speculative fiction.  The choice is important… in the real world, and in speculative fiction.  It is the choice that makes or breaks not only the story, but also the character, and often the plot.   But WHAT does your character have to choose from?  Why?  How?

Here’s another statement I made in my last post:

I said:

“It is my belief that a believable story world should be based on the truths perceived in this world, since this world’s history is supposedly known as reality.”

I realize now that that is a confusing statement.  I’m going to try to clarify it here.

What I meant was that I think writers should look to this world’s history for examples of choices to put in their books depicting right and wrong.  Not that they should only write historical fiction, no.  Historical fiction is fine in its own way, but I’m not going there at the moment.

However, think about the history of the world – even the history of Christianity.  There is so much conflict with other belief systems and other religions… other cultures.  History itself has brought Christianity to what it is today – and it was stock full of pitfalls and temptations. 

Think on the reformation, if you will.  That’s a time in history that I’m going to be using in subtle context within my novel, “Song of the Daystar”.  The time when the Protestant Faith decided to break away from Catholicism, which ultimately led to the creation of the different denominations within Christianity today.  Granted, I am not a big fan of the different denominations and I personally believe that God’s church should be of one body and mind, but STILL!!!  That's part of the beauty of Freedom in Christ -- Christ gives us the freedom to be diverse; to be ourselves in His truth.  Without Christ and his Truth, and by extension without the reformation, I technically wouldn’t even be allowed to think on such things without it being a danger to my life!    

Even before the time of Christ there were different belief systems that ended up tempting and eventually overcoming God’s Chosen.  I think now of the time when Moses went up to the mountain for the making of the Ten Commandments, and in his absence the people made an idol of a calf and began to worship it.  Or how about in the time of Elijah, when the people of Israel were oppressed by Jezebel and Ahab, and had turned their eyes to the false god, Baal? 

In the end, Truth prevails, but the other choices… the other cultural beliefs, the other religions… are there to tempt the people of God; to try and turn them astray.  THIS is where the real spiritual battle begins, and this is what so many books in Christian Speculative fiction seem to be missing.  I’ve seen it done well in a few of them, but there are so many other books out there that are just missing the point!

This is another part of why I think multiple cultures and belief systems should be added to Christian Speculative fiction… not as a truth in itself, mind, but as choice; as a temptation.  And think on this: the people of other belief systems do actually think that they have the key to truth, even if they don’t really.  Thinking this, they can be very persuasive and very defensive when it comes to their faith.  (That’s what I meant when I kept saying that people of different cultures and different belief systems see black and white differently.  I never meant that Black and White were negotiable; simply that people see right and wrong with different perspectives… and this was not meant to bring morality into the debate, although it ended up sneaking its way in anyways. ;D) 

What’s saddest of all is that often times the people of different belief systems such as the Muslims and the Buddhists are more loyal to their religion – to their faith – than the Christians are with our walk with God.  I’ve seen this first hand; I know it’s true.  It’s so, so sad… but unfortunately, it is a truth for many Christians (me included in many instances).  This fact, however, can make the people of those belief systems even more convincing when it comes to arguing out their beliefs.

However, it’s like I said in my last post:  I believe that part of the wonder of True Salvation is the fact that there are so many other (false) belief systems in the world a person could pursue, and yet it is the truth behind Christianity – the truth of Christ – that draws people in to seek God’s face and find True Love and Salvation in Him.

Why do you think that so many churches send missionaries to foreign countries steeped in the cultural beliefs of a lie?  The Islamic and Buddhist and Hindu countries?  It isn’t to learn their belief systems… it is to spread the light and truth of Christ.  But even our missionaries need to be wary, and need to be covered by prayer when approaching such matters.  It’s dangerous; unsafe.

The path to true salvation is not an easy one: the gate is narrow and the way is rough and pitted.  BUT, making that first initial right choice in a whole world filled with much more succulent looking wrong choices is the first real step.

THAT, my friends, is what I meant when I wrote my last post.  THAT is what Christian Speculative writers need to work on putting into their stories – stories that have been missing that all-important spiritual conflict for so very long.  THAT is why I believe that multiple cultures and belief systems should be included in Christian Speculative Fiction – not as different forms of Truth, but as temptations and pitfalls; beliefs that are thought to be true by those who believe in them, but that ultimately lead to destruction.

With these choices before them, along with the choice that leads to salvation and redemption, the characters of a story have a long and difficult road before them.  If they are not already aware of the Right Choice and the Right Path, then they may have difficulty understanding it; they may end up turning aside, looking at other belief systems, thinking that other religions and cultures hold the key to the truth that they crave.  They may not be able to fully grasp what true salvation is… some of them may even fail in their journeys.

BUT, that’s why I usually pair my characters like this with another character who does know the difference… Who has been in that position before, and works to help lead my other character in the right direction.

Take my character Curron, for instance; he’s a young boy who grew up hearing stories of Anahdor  (the representation of God in my book) but never actually knew what true faith and belief in Anahdor actually meant or what it called for.)  Curron is eventually paired up with another character in the story known as Caellahn; Caellahn has already chosen the path to salvation through Anahdor, but he has to be careful because the King has issued a law that bans certain outlooks and views of worshiping Anahdor. (This is where I will start to work in certain aspects of the Reformation period, as well as subtly touch on some thoughts on denominational separation.) 

On his journey with Caellahn, Curron is going to be introduced to different cultural beliefs… all of them false, and all of them just different facets of darkness that eventually lead to the father of lies and deceit. (In my story, that evil character is known as Ungahl.)  And yet, when Curron is introduced to these belief systems, the people of those religions will, of course, think that their beliefs are the only ones that hold the key to truth.  They are deceived by Ungahl, but they don’t even realize it.

Curron will also be introduced in many places to those who believe as Caellahn does, who have found the one true path to salvation and redemption, and who will help Curron and pray for him as he works through his own inward struggle to find God.

Perhaps now you are starting to understand what I tried to get across before: I never meant for anyone to think that I believe in multiple truths, or that I think that there are different types of white and black, right and wrong.  I simply meant that often times, people who believe in something other than the Truth think that they are right: they THINK that they know right and wrong, black from white, when in reality they are just wrong.  There is no other way to God but One. 

AND YET, it is the very fact that there are people like that and belief systems like that in this world that often confuses people between the truth and some random falsity.  If done correctly, multicultural belief systems could be the key to revealing to our characters and therefore to our readers (through a series of events and plotlines, of course) the only ONE TRUE PATH to salvation – through Chirst.  

We should not try to purposely exclude such elements from our stories because they are wrong, we should not keep our outlook of God stuffed in a box, and we should definitely not try to ignore these aspects of our reality and of this world by excluding them from our books.  Why?  Because IF they are used correctly, adding this extra depth to the world of our story could actually aid us in our mission to reveal the Truths of Christ through fiction.

And that was my point all along.

What do you think?