Monday, July 30, 2012

Poopy Faced Christian Prudes

We’ll talk about the title of this post in a second. First, I want to state that this is the first in many blog posts where I try to address some in-depth and sometimes complex issues/themes in the world, Christianity, and the arts and entertainment. Starting next week I’ll be diving into an entire series dedicated to examining the characters and themes in my edgy Christian speculative fiction series, Black Earth. But first I figured I’d lay down the groundwork by debunking an attitude that I’ve come across one too many times now – Christian’s vehemently judging non-Christians for participating in edgy entertainment – books, movies, music, video games, etc. What’s even more annoying is when Christians vehemently judge other Christians for the same thing.

I mean, c’mon, most of us have to admit that a good percentage – although not all – of the Christian population has the well-earned reputation of taking itself too seriously. Harry Potter is evil. Christian rap isn’t real music. Violent movies cause us to kill each other. These are attitudes I see in the Christian community ALL the time. Granted not all Christians feel this way, but some of those that do strive to wipe out any form of entertainment that doesn’t promote Christian themes.

Now before the comments start about how it seems I’m attacking those who hold certain beliefs that they are entitled to have, I want to make one thing clear: I am aware that even though some people believe Harry Potter is evil, it doesn’t make them wrong in their opinion. It could be considered evil for them, personally. The issue I have is when Christians point the finger and make painfully obvious their disgust with those who DO enjoy Harry Potter.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that there are definitely boundaries we need to put around ourselves and our children in regards to content in the arts. Some of us are genuinely more disturbed by certain themes than others, and in this regard, we should probably keep ourselves from engaging in content that contains these themes. A rape victim may not feel comfortable watching a movie that portrays a girl being raped. Some are more squeamish to acts of violence in film and television. Some have an extreme distaste for cursing in music. We need to have mutual respect for those who feel this way.

But what I want to talk about is the stigma surrounding Christians completely hating on forms of entertainment that contain anything gritty, edgy, or controversial. It seems some shy away from anything that contains merely the theme of evil because they are afraid it will rub off on them and turn them evil. I just think that some Christians too often neglect to look at a form of entertainment for what it has the potential to be – a platform for powerful stories, though-provoking themes, and issues relative to our world today.

I think many neglect to use discernment when it comes to this and instead, lazily write EVERYTHING off as evil, shunning any type of entertainment that contains cursing, sex, violence, or morally blurred lines. Personally, I find that these forms of entertainment simply reflect the world around us. My neighbor curses, but I can’t shut him off. A driver on the interstate cuts me off, I honk at him, and he follows me into my neighborhood hoping to start a violent feud. While at work, my coworker hits on me and attempts to seduce me away from my wife. This is real life.

No, I’m not saying that we should purposefully seek out a book or movie that is filled with cursing or sex simply for the sake of experiencing cursing or sex. Once again, this is where discernment comes in. What I’m saying is that sometimes entertainment venues contain these things to tell truth in a story, to make them believable, and draw us in. That’s really what parables were all about. Jesus told parables – mostly fictional tales – to get a sometimes complex spiritual truth across in a simple way that the majority could understand.

I think one of my favorite movies is The Dark Knight. The villain in the movie, the Joker, is clearly in opposition to Bruce Wayne, who wants to help make Gotham city a better place. Bruce has seen the seedy side of Gotham, especially with the murder of his parents. And even though Bruce is filthy rich, he realizes that money holds nothing to purpose, and so he finds his purpose in Batman, an icon meant to give the city hope. The Joker on the other hand has nothing to lose, and this makes him a great villain because he is willing to do anything – even self-destruct – to get his plans and purpose across. The Joker understands humanities dark side and even tries to turn humanity on itself by setting up for a prison transport and a passenger ferry to destroy each other. But humanity succeeds and, for the moment, evil takes a hit. The Dark Knight portrays the ultimate battle between good and evil, of a just man and an unjust villain, humanity versus humanity. There is no seemingly sure way of stopping the Joker without killing him. But Batman understands that killing isn’t always the answer. He knows if he kills the Joker, that he himself will become that which he battles. Evil.

Anyone can pull any number of spiritual references from the movie, but I think Christians can gain a lot of insight by learning to breathe every once in a while and take in fine storytelling such as this. I also understand that some may be sensitive to certain themes of violence, and the maniacal and truly insane persona of the Joker can be disturbing to many, but those situations aren’t what I’m addressing here. I’m addressing those who sneer at movies like this or at the Christians/non-Christians who choose to watch them.

I think we as Christians should learn not to be such prudes when it comes to some of this stuff. I know I’ll probably get some negative comments about my heretical theories, but I don’t really care. I’ve felt this way for a  while now and I think it’s time I spoke up. I’m not by any means suggesting we go out and live a sinful life through a constant stream of lewd or crude entertainment. But I think great stories, great characters, great moral conflicts, can be found in some great avenues of media that some of us have been avoiding like a communicable disease.

Keep tabs on this blog on Wednesday when I talk specifically about the bad rap (some not surprising) that some Christian fiction has and my own way of emerging from it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Blazing A Trail For Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction

I've been running this blog for a little over four years now. It's gone through many changes - both in regards to design and content - but I think I'm finally feeling comfortable and confident with what it stands to represent now: edgy Christian speculative fiction, and my road through self-publishing. The two go hand in hand because A) I write edgy Christian speculative fiction and B) I self-publish the edgy Christian speculative fiction that I write.

That being said, now that the solid themes of my blog have risen to the surface, I'm ready to start getting real serious about my blogging habits and the direction I want this blog to head in. For a while now I've been attempting to blog three times a week, if anything to keep me disciplined in my non-fiction writing habits. Until now, it was hard to stay disciplined when I wasn't all that clear on what my blog was trying to focus on. I easily put up posts about my books and some fun tidbits about self-publishing, but overall I feel - whether it's true or not - that this blog has been missing some meat. It hasn't been used as effectively as I'd like it to be used.

I want to blaze a trail for edgy Christian speculative fiction and self-publishing.

In a post I put up last week, I explained how my Black Earth series came about and I talked a little about some of the challenges I have faced trying to mix Christian themes with science fiction, fantasy, and edgy content. But what good is simply doing a single post where I gush about a few hurdles? The genre that I describe is a tough one to sell - both to Christians and non-Christians alike. Many Christians are put off by anything containing edgy content - including movies, books, music, etc. (More on that next week.) Many non-Christians have no desire to read Christian fiction in any form, mainly because their idea of Christian fiction is a well-told (if that) sermon.

So here I am, three books into my Black Earth series, and I have a monumental challenge ahead of me. See, I write for a living. I don't work a '9-5', I don't scribble out short stories in my 'spare' time, I don't do this for giggles. I am serious about my writing because it is my calling, my purpose. It is my ministry. It is NOT my everything, but it is what I have been called to and that means I am expected to give 110% to it. My best.

The real question that rises to the surface of this dilemma is this: How do I reach both sides of the fence with my fiction? I mean, I know how to write good stories. If you check out most of the reviews posted on Amazon for my novels, you'll see that my work is given pretty good ratings and reviews. So the next step in this is to get this unique work out there to more people.

And that's where this blog comes in.

Part of my plan to spread the word about my writing and this particular genre is to bear down on this blog and introducing some real, though-provoking content. Yes, I'll still be revealing stretches of my journey through the self-publishing obstacle course. But I want to start talking about real issues, real-life themes, many of which are found throughout my Black Earth series. I want to discuss how these themes came about in my series, how they can be used in Christian fiction to help build a realistic world that readers can relate too, and how these themes can be used effectively to tell a great story in general.

Themes like violence, inherited religion, slavery, sexual promiscuity, aliens, super powers, faith, etc.

A good time will be had by all. I guarantee it. I'll be diving into these themes, and exploring the many characters of Black Earth and showcasing how they fit into these themes and into real life. I may even throw in some exclusive content relating to the Black Earth series, like fiction pieces and the like. I will also be posting new Compendium entries that tie in with these posts on the website. In between it all I'll be dropping posts on other things as well, such as self-publishing, book reviews, and miscellaneous whatnot.

We'll start this party out next week when I'll be exploring Christian attitudes toward art and entertainment, looking into some of the negative stigma surrounding Christian fiction, and discussing the need for excellence in the self-publishing realm. From there, we'll head straight into a detailed look at Cynthia Ruin, a complex and broken character in my Black Earth series, and explore the theme of sexual promiscuity.

In the meantime, have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dark Masquerade Reviews and Giveaway

Just yesterday I released the third volume of my Black Earth series, Dark Masquerade. Already I've gotten some great reviews for the book, and I figured I'd share some links here to where you can find them, plus a chance to win a digital copy.

Tiffany Cole reviewed the book at her blog, Reader's Den.

Nathan James Norman reviewed the book at Eventyr and at the Spirit Blade Underground

Scott Poe reviewed the book at his blog, Indie Book Blogger.

And Scott is also doing a Rafflecopter giveaway of some digital copies of Black Earth: Dark Masquerade and the two books that come before it. Check it out!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Introducing Black Earth: Dark Masquerade

Darkness has engulfed the world, and the nightmare has begun...

Two weeks have passed since Nathan Pierce battled the Great Witch, Evanescence, and rescued Pearl from her mother's corrupt influence. Nathan now finds himself inhabiting a mall in northern California with members of Absolute's Rebellion, holding onto hope that his sister, Daisy, hasn't been executed for treason yet and keeping a watchful eye on Pearl—an immortal girl branded with a black key mark that could unlock destruction upon the earth.

When a stranger strolls in from the darkness with a lead on Daisy's whereabouts, Nathan sets off on a journey into the Broken Lands to find her. But to save his doomed sibling, Nathan must maneuver through a horrifying landscape of terrifying creatures and violence, dodging both the President of the United States and Legion—an alien entity intent on destroying the world.

Black Earth: Dark Masquerade, the third novel in my Black Earth series, is now available for purchase both in paperback and ebook formats. And if you’re wanting to get caught up on the series, you can grab Book 1: End of the Innocence and Book 2: The Broken Daisy both in paperback and ebook formats as well, or you can snag the Black Earth Double Pack in ebook format which contains both Books 1 and 2.

Black Earth: Dark Masquerade Excerpt -
“Nathan. You did come.”

Nathan stopped and slowly turned toward the voice coming from behind him. A woman with hair of pure white wore a white dress with black polka dots scattered on its surface.

“You like it? I thought I’d dress up like Pearl, but this was the only dress I could find.”

He had to stifle the curse coming to his lips.

“Legion is here, Nathan. We know you’re here. We know about those on the roof of the parking garage, the ones hiding in the buildings all around us. We know about your friend Macayle over there, on the steps of the library, using his monocle indiscriminately to keep tabs on you and the crowd. We know about everything.”

Nathan didn’t speak, didn’t move except to pull his hood closer to his cheeks, as tight as he could. How did I not know she was here when I first entered the crowd? His other interactions with Legion were more open, more noticeable. The female forms that Legion usually took always had hair and eyes of elaborate colors and wore black tendrils of ink in their skin. Sometimes, they were half-naked.

This one looked…normal…human.

“We know you’re here. But we’ll keep it our little secret.”

“Why?” he whispered.

She shrugged. “Why not? You humans are a delight to play with. If you’re not falling for the sensual aspects of each other, you’re harboring bitterness and hatred toward your own kind. You fascinate us. You fascinate me. I have spent years upon years studying your species, and there is always one thing that comes to my attention almost right away in every story I read—you always turn on yourselves.

“Take your leader, the one labeled the President of the United States. She is elected by your people, and yet your people are at odds over whether she should be leading your country or not. It’s fascinating. You humans change your minds on a whim. You kill each other over trivial things, and you start wars and then never remember why you started them to begin with. How do you do it? How do you live in an endless cycle of perversion, murder, and bigotry? And most importantly, how are you still around after all these years? Your species should have been extinct long ago with your dragon beasts.”

Nathan glanced toward Macayle in the distance. The man was keeping a watchful eye on Nathan, but there was still no sign of his sister or the president.

“She will be out soon, Nathan Pierce of Earth. When she takes the stage, when the events unfold, it will be another massacre, just like your wars of old. I will do nothing to stop it. Neither will my brethren.”

“Why?” Nathan asked. “Why would you not destroy us when you have the chance?”

“Oh, you will be destroyed. But why exert our energy in doing what you will do quite well yourselves? We’d rather sit back and watch humanity destroy…humanity.”

Nathan scanned the crowd, careful not to make steady eye contact with anyone. “Where is my sister?”

“She’s coming, Nathan. It has been…a pleasure…speaking with you. Know that we are always here, watching you. I will say…good luck. I am not sure that is an accurate term for your present situation, but I gather you know what I mean by it. You are intelligent for your species. You may very well get out of this alive. At least, today you might.”

Nathan glanced up at the buildings towering over the plaza. I wonder which one Ginger is in. When he returned his gaze to the Legion female, she was gone.

Snag your copy of Black Earth: Dark Masquerade at the following spots - (Paperback and Kindle)
Barnes and Noble (Nook)
Smashwords (Various eBook Formats)
Createspace (Paperback)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Proof Copy of Black Earth: Dark Masquerade

I just received the proof copy of my latest novel, Black Earth: Dark Masquerade, in the mail. Proof copies always make me nervous because if there's one little thing wrong with the book, another one usually needs to be ordered to make sure the correction didn't send ripples through the rest of the book formatting.

This time around, it seems everything inside of the book is in good shape. My problem seems to be the front and back cover.

For some reason, Createspace neglected to include the bar code on the back cover.

I contacted their support team and they said they are going to speak with their technical support department about it and get back to me.

The other issue is the front cover. The intended image -

turned out like this -

You'll notice that the proof copy has the bottom portion (very thin) of the Black Earth title cut off. That's my fault because I didn't enlarge the text boxes in the program I use to create the cover. That's an easy fix though. 

The biggest issue is that the background went completely black, instead of having the texture and shading of the black cloth my wife used as the backdrop when she photographed the mask. I'm not sure what went awry in the printing process that would cause the whole background to disappear and turn completely black. Createspace's support department gave me a cookie cutter answer about how small variances are expected. Thanks.

Fortunately, after showing the book to some trusted sources, we're all in agreement that the front cover image looks great the way it is. The mask vanishing into the darkness actually goes with the title and adds a bit more intrigue to the cover. I know if my wife and I try to tweak the background at all it is going to result in many more proof copies being ordered and possibly weeks before the book can be released. I just don't see the need to fix something that isn't broken, or is broken but looks just as good as my original desire for a cover design.

So, it looks like I'm right on track for the book to be released both in paperback and ebook next Wednesday!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Black Earth and the Genre That Almost Wasn't

I’ve been frustrated lately. Mostly with myself than with anything else.

See, I’ve been writing since 1992. I’ve been self-publishing since at least 2004. And I’ve been working on the Black Earth series since 2007, when it began as a short story in an anthology I wrote for National Novel Writing Month that November.

My aim with the Black Earth series was to tell a story about the world falling into darkness, with the main focus being on a few major characters who were attempting to navigate through this darkness by relying on their relationship with God. That lonely little short story – which was originally created under the umbrella of my young adult series, Expired Reality – quickly became the baseline for an entire series of its own: Black Earth.

Black Earth: End of the Innocence – the first novel in the series – was the most challenging manuscript I have ever penned. Why? Because it contained content in it that I knew would be frowned on by friends and family, fellow Christians, probably even my church. But I felt led to write the story found within the pages of End of the Innocence, a story filled with rape, cursing, sexual promiscuity, aliens, superpowers, violence, demons, witches, time travel, and other realities.

Needless to say, the novel was completely out of my comfort zone. In fact, it broke the very foundation of the shelter I had been living within my whole life.

But after I wrote the story, after a great friend (and mentor) of mine edited it, after I formatted it and placed it between beautiful cover art my wife created, I realized what I had done – I had created a hybrid of sorts. Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction. I came up with that genre title because I have no other way to describe what I write. Black Earth is a mixture of science fiction, fantasy, a dash of horror, all encompassing themes of redemption, forgiveness, revenge, and betrayal.

At first I made the mistake of trying to hide Black Earth under the science fiction/fantasy genre. I failed because reviewers started pointing out that Black Earth had Christian themes and that it should be placed under the Christian Fiction umbrella.  The book also got lost in the massive genre of science fiction/fantasy, buried underneath the likes of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Game of Thrones series.

So where did it belong? Where could Black Earth call home?

In all honesty, I dreaded carrying Black Earth under the Christian Fiction banner. Quite a bit of Christian Fiction – and I stress quite a bit, not all – contains watered down stories that encompass 'clever' sermons about Jesus and how to live a ‘proper’ life. Most Christian Fiction ends on a high note, and not much of it explores ‘real’ life. Much Christian Fiction avoids the dark and gritty side of life. Prostitutes, drug addiction, the inner struggles of sex addicts, the moral dilemmas one faces in high school. Even science fiction/fantasy elements are frowned upon most of the time, including extraterrestrial life, time travel, magic and witches.

This dilemma I faced forced me to really think about what umbrella my work, especially Black Earth, fell under. I didn’t want to enter the Christian Fiction scene with my science fiction/fantasy/horror novel that was filled with rape, violence and cursing. I would be ostracized. And I didn’t want to continue skating through the swamp of science fiction/fantasy, hoping reviewers wouldn’t have issue with the fact that my stories contained Christian themes.

And that’s when it hit me. I’m a self-published author. I’m in control of my marketing efforts and the genre I want to place myself in. I did some research and found that not many authors were attempting to craft the type of genre I had concocted with my Black Earth series. That isn’t to say there weren’t some trying, but with it being such a narrow market, they were getting lost in the shuffle or were giving up because they were being opposed at every angle.

Unfortunately, since creating the banner of Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction, I haven’t really pushed myself out there with it. I haven’t tried hard enough to bring attention to this unique genre, or to get my own face as the author of these books into the public spotlight. When it comes to marketing and promotion, my first instinct is to go extreme introvert and open the door, throw my books on the lawn and shut the door in hopes someone will serendipitously stumble upon my fiction. This is a horrible way to try and reach readers.

Interestingly enough, most of the reviews for the books in my Black Earth series have been positive. There are non-Christians who love the books for their stories, characters and themes. Some have even commented that even though they recognize Christian themes within the novels, they don’t feel like they are being preached to when they read them. Some readers from the Christian camp praise my stories for crossing the line that was mysteriously drawn in the sand eons ago and creating ‘real’ characters who are forced to face a dark and (nearly) hopeless reality. It seems I have written something they haven’t been able to find or have had a hard time finding – edgy Christian fiction.

I know that I have something here. Something fresh. Something unique. Something that could be big, if I put the time and effort behind it. It’s akin to rolling a boulder up a snow-packed hill, but it can be done. And I’ll do it – with God’s help of course. ;)

Get ready, folks. I’ve been working hard the last couple days sketching out a battle plan to bring more attention to work of this caliber. In the very near future, I will be starting some blog post series here that will take time to explore many of the characters and themes found in my Black Earth series. I’ll reveal why certain themes are present in the series, and what they mean for the Christian/non-Christian community. I’m going to be more vocal about edgy Christian fiction and the need for this type of work in the art community on Facebook, Twitter,  and some other avenues. And I may even start a Facebook group in the near future for those who are eager to support and get underneath this intriguing umbrella of mishmashed goodness.

There are many edgy characters and themes present in my Black Earth series and I plan on drawing most if not all of them out. Not to sound too clique, but the Bible didn’t hold back when it came time to discuss many – if not all – of the dark sides of humanity. That’s not to say I’m going to get too crazy, but I think it’s time themes like redemption and self-destruction are explored in an open arena instead of being kept to Sunday sermons or salacious novels.

I have a little more info on what the term Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction actually encompasses, at least to me, at my website – – just in case you’re curious or you want to pass the word along to your friends and family. And if you want updates on the projects that I currently have in the works – such as book releases, website updates, and other goodies, you can subscribe to my free monthly email newsletter.

For the time being, stay tuned to this blog and get ready for some serious discussion to spark up in the coming weeks.

Monday, July 9, 2012

July Update

I find it hard to believe it's already July. The heat has settled in for a long summer here in Arizona, and most of my days are spent worshiping the air conditioner and iced coffee. But excitement has settled in as well because we are approaching the release of Black Earth: Dark Masquerade. July 25th is the official release date for the ebook AND paperback versions of the third volume in my Black Earth series.

Speaking of which, I have already heard back from a couple of the advanced reviewers for the book, and I'm very happy with the comments being made. I think the third book in a series is both the easiest and hardest to write. Easiest because characters and plot threads have already been set up and one can concentrate on moving with the story flow. Hardest because there is expectation greater than what came with the second book in the series.  It felt like a tricky thing to pull off, but it seems - at least from initial response - that I did good with this installment.

Tomorrow night I'll be ordering the proof copy of the paperback version of Black Earth: Dark Masquerade. While I wait for the book to arrive, I'll be focusing on building the book a new page on my website, finishing up July's email newsletter, and sketching out some new Compendium entries to add to the website in August. I'm also going to be starting work on the edits to Black Earth: Bridge to Anaisha - the fourth and final book in the series - as my editor sends them to me.

Exciting stuff!