Friday, August 31, 2012

7 Years of NaNoWriMo

A little while ago, I mentioned that I wanted to start another post series in regards to self-publishing, both to show the process that I go through to write/self-publishing/market my books, but also to hopefully help other self-publishing authors along the way. Last week I gave a glimpse at my love for Julia Cameron's, The Right to Write.

This week, I want to bring attention to a great writing challenge that has really helped me bust out some projects over the years. National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo for short – takes place each November, and during that month, contestants have to write a 50,000 word manuscript. The prize? Well, you’ll have a nice heavy draft in your hands from which to build a great novel upon. You also get to download and print a nifty certificate, and you’ll be titled as a winner in NaNoWriMo history, which will follow you all your years of NaNoWriMo writing.

I have completed NaNoWriMo the last seven years, and from it have come every novel in my Black Earth series, some side projects I have yet to reveal, and drafts for some novels in my young adult series – Expired Reality. It’s an exhilarating feeling blowing through 50,000 words in 30 days (although I’ve been known to finish in as little as 9 days) without any regard for editing. What comes out of the experience is a raw manuscript which acts as a superb groundwork to craft a well-polished novel off of.

For those interested in National Novel Writing Month, head over to their official website for all the details. On the website, you’ll find groups that meet locally in your area during the challenge and host write-ins, competitions, and other fun events. I will be participating again this year, although I’m not sure what my project will be yet.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Inherited Religion in Christian Fiction

On Monday I shared some background to another of my Black Earth characters – Pearl – an immortal girl intent on ending her life in the beginning of End of the Innocence. Her story is an interesting one because it brings up the topic of this post – inherited religion.

In the series, we find out that Pearl was crafted in the Depths, an extension of Hell. Her mother, Evanescence, created Pearl and attempted to set within her a purpose for destruction. Evanescence attempted to seal Pearl’s fate by marking her with a black key mark – which would later unlock all sorts of trouble – and assumed that Pearl was destined for the purposes of Hell simply because Pearl was born in Hell.

The idea that one can be born in Hell is a controversial one to say the least, especially in Christian fiction, but this IS fiction we are talking about here, and Pearl’s birth story sets the stage for the rest of her place in the Black Earth series. At first, Pearl attempts to kill herself because she knows she has been created for an evil purpose. She wants nothing to do with Earth’s destruction and so she decides to take herself out of the picture and go home – to Heaven – to be with her father, God.

Pearl is an interesting character because she was born in Hell, yet she knows God. God has called her as His child, even though her body was formed by Evanescence – Queen of the Depths – and cared for by the denizens of Hell. Even though Pearl was born into atrocity, she knows she is not bound by it. And so she decides to follow her own path and find a destiny worth living for.

In general, the term inherited religion refers to religious beliefs and customs passed on through family, such as Christianity, Catholicism, Mormonism, etc. Pearl’s origins reflect inherited religion because Hell is something she was born into, yet when she begins to question her purpose, she finds there are other roads that truly exist, regardless of what Evanescence tries to convince her of.

Most children are raised in this inherited religion, and most don’t usually question the beliefs or reasons for such religious practices or beliefs. One problem I have seen within the Christian community, is that certain Christians don’t want other Christians to question Christian beliefs, for fear if one questions Christianity and realizes it is not for them, that they will turn from the faith and follow an undesired path.

I would argue in favor of the opposite. Questioning your beliefs is probably the best thing you can do in your life, especially if you’ve been raised to adapt your belief system to those around you, i.e. family. Just because you’ve been raised in a Mormon, Christian, Atheist, or Pagan household doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the opportunity to sit down, do some research, and study the beliefs behind these religions (or lack thereof) to see if you truly believe what they believe. Yes, I’m saying this about Christianity as well.

Too many Christians nowadays scoff at the fact that other Christians want to question everything under the sun in regards to the Christian faith, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Did he really die on the cross for our sins? How old is Earth, really? What does the Bible say about finances, sex, hate? As children, we question everything, and sometimes our parents give us half-hearted answers either because we won’t completely understand the truth behind something yet, or that our parents are simply lazy and don’t want us questioning the foundations of the family environment.

When asked why the family goes to church or believes in God or celebrates Christmas, many parents opt for the “because we always have” approach. This is detrimental. What ends up happening is children grow up and eventually wander out into the ‘real’ world with no foundation to their faith. They stumble into the wrong crowd, happen upon the wrong things, and they have no Biblical or faith-based backing to fall on. They just have “because we always have” to lean on, and that is about as flimsy as a house of cards in a hurricane.

Many Christians don’t approach these matters in Christian fiction. It seems taboo to venture down the road of questioning because we fear we’ll stray from God if we find answers we don’t really want. But if those of us who are grounded in our faith truly believe that God is real and the Bible truth, than what do we have to fear if a loved one wants to know more about why we believe what we believe? Are we afraid they will find out Christianity is all a scam, a crafty device created by man to trick the world? Instead of smothering our friends and family with fear and doubt, we should be sitting them down and offering to answer any questions they have to the best of our ability. And if we can’t answer them, find someone who can. Or simply lead them to God and believe He will answer their questions.

Fiction is a wonderful vehicle for venturing down these paths. Fiction can ask the hard questions and set the stage to answer them in a meaningful way. Fiction can open doors to discussion in regards to inherited religion.

Next week we’ll take a good look at the character of Ryan Anderson, and explore the theme of betrayal in Christian fiction.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

New Compendium Entry - Pearl

Yesterday I gave you a look into the character of Pearl from my Black Earth series. Tomorrow, we'll be taking a look at inherited religion and it's place in Christian fiction. Today I'm happy to say that a new entry to the website Compendium has been added: Pearl's character profile.

For those who are curious what the Compendium is, it is a (ultimately) massive database that I am building from the ground up that will house information on any and all things from both my Black Earth and my Expired Reality series. Each week, new entries will be added to the Compendium. Right now, I'm in a blog series exploring the different characters (and themes) of my Black Earth series, and the majority of released Compendium entries during this series will be character based.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Black Earth Character Spotlight - Pearl

Last week I gave you a glimpse into the character of Daisy Pierce, and we took a look at how faith can be a greater benefit to Christian fiction when it's used properly.

This week we’ll take a look into the character of Pearl, an immortal girl torn between our world and the Depths.

Pearl’s origins are some of the most uncanny in the Black Earth series. Crafted by hand by her mother, Evanescence, Pearl’s form was put together in the Depths – a sublevel of Hell itself. Pearl took months to create, and when she was finished being crafted, she came to life as an eighteen year old with basic knowledge of Earth, humanity, and a very limited knowledge of creation.

When Pearl originally awoke (was birthed) in the Depths, she absorbed knowledge that allowed her to discern that the Depths, and the domain of the Dark One, was not a place she wanted to be. She was told the plans her mother, Evanescence, had for her, and this caused Pearl to flee the Depths – after a long and grueling escape attempt – and make her way to Earth, where she wandered in hopes of finding a way to kill herself so she wouldn’t have to witness the destruction about to befall the planet.

In the beginning of the Black Earth series, in the prologue to End of the Innocence (Falling), we find Pearl on the top of a high rise in Phoenix, about to throw herself off in another attempt to kill herself. She knows what is coming and wants nothing more than to be with her Father God in Heaven.

The interesting thing about Pearl is that even though she was crafted in Hell itself, by the Queen of the Depths, Pearl still acknowledges that her true creator is God and that He has a better place for her to reside in than the Depths or Earth. Although Pearl ends up going about reaching Heaven in the wrong manner – mostly due to her limited knowledge of things – her heart is in the right place. She wants to reside with the One who truly created her, and not those who have crafted her for evil intentions.

What’s funny, is I first formed the image of Pearl in my mind when I heard Skillet’s song, The Last Night, which speaks of suicide. I wondered what it would be like for someone immortal to want to commit suicide to escape the travesties on Earth. Fortunately, Pearl’s attempts to kill herself all fail, and she is ultimately united with a young man – the main character of the Black Earth series – Nathan Pierce.

Throughout the Black Earth series, Pearl learns what it is to make one’s own destiny and not conform to the inherited religion or beliefs one is born into - more on that Wednesday. Even though Pearl finds herself marked with a black key tattoo, one placed there for nefarious purposes, she fights with every ounce of will she has to make her own destiny and follow where her heart is leading her – into the arms of God.

Pearl’s character brings a splash of beauty and sorrow to the Black Earth series, and she is probably one of my favorite characters. When she cries, rose petals flutter from her eyelids and she carries with her a sweet scent of cherry blossoms wherever she goes. When she finally does meet Nathan Pierce in person, Nathan gives her a reason to stick through the tragic events that befall Earth, but along the journey, Pearl also comes to know God better and realize the purpose she was truly created for.

Where will we find Pearl by the end of the Black Earth series? Who knows? Well, I do, but I’m not telling yet.

This Wednesday we’ll take a look at the theme of inherited religion in the Black Earth series and how it can serve a purpose in Christian fiction. Tomorrow, Pearl’s character profile will be added to the Compendium on the official website, and next week we’ll take a look at the character of Ryan Anderson and the theme of betrayal in Christian fiction.

Friday, August 24, 2012

New Compendium Entry, Interview, and Email Newsletter

This week I gave you all a glimpse into one of the most important characters in my Black Earth series, Daisy Pierce, and I discussed faith and it's place in Christian fiction. Today I'm happy to say that a new entry to the website Compendium has been added: Daisy Pierce's character profile.

For those who are curious what the Compendium is, it is a (ultimately) massive database that I am building from the ground up that will house information on any and all things from both my Black Earth and my Expired Reality series. Each week, new entries will be added to the Compendium.

Chat With Giovanni From Gelati's Scoop
I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down and talk with Giovanni from Gelati's Scoop - an extensive book review site - yesterday, and we talked about my Black Earth series, the challenges of building a fan base as a self-published author, and other great discussion points. You can listen to that session here -

September Email Newsletter
The next edition of the email newsletter will be going out soon. Sign up here. I also have a secret project that I am working on at the moment. Something in regards to the Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction genre. I'll be talking a little bit about it in the newsletter, so make sure not to miss out on this issue! 

New FB Group
I mentioned this last week, but a new Facebook group has been created - Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction. The group is designed to bring attention to this unique genre, and all are available to join. Check it out here -

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Little Man Turns One Today!

Yes, it's been a whole year since that fateful night I was standing in a hospital holding my newborn son, Nolan. The last year has been a wild ride, but one I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.

Happy birthday my little monster!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Faith in Christian Fiction

On Monday I posted some exclusive background to the character of Daisy Pierce, Nathan Pierce’s sister and a character around whom the entire Black Earth series seems to orbit. Throughout the series, Daisy’s character explores what true conviction and boundless faith can look like in Christian fiction, and in life in general.

So what is faith? Faith, according to the Bible (Hebrews 11:1 NASB), is “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Essentially, it is the belief that something is going to happen even if all visible indications say otherwise. But faith can also extend to our relationship with God. The Bible states (Hebrews 11:6 NASB), “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” So our relationship with God depends on our faith – belief that He exists, that He knows what is  best for us, and that He has the best in store for us.

In a lot of Christian fiction I have read, I notice the theme of faith is portrayed on a very basic level. The characters have faith that God will get them out of horrible situations – or walk with them through horrible situations – and that God will save the day. But in reality, true faith calls for a more mature belief in God. What if things don’t go well?  What if God doesn’t save the day? Regardless of our own well-being, do we believe that God can turn all things around for good, that He can use every situation to the best it can be used?

In my Black Earth series, Daisy’s faith and relationship with God are tested to the extreme. She ends up being beaten and tortured and made into an example of what will happen to those who disobey the powers that be. Instead of giving in completely to despair and discouragement, she pulls close to God who gives her many episodes of respite from the horrible demon that plagues her. He also gives her answers as to what her purpose is. In so many words, God acknowledges that things will get worse, but that Daisy has been chosen by Him to set an example. To carve a path. To change the world.

How many people have been called to the impossible only to deny walking it out because of lack of faith? Faith is more relevant in fiction than many readers believe because fiction threads together events that haven’t happened, the chords of imagination. God is a God of imagination, and He calls many people to walk out the impossible but sadly many never do. They get stuck in the in-between and give up somewhere along the journey, or maybe they don’t step foot into the journey at all. They lack faith, and that lack of faith results in a lack of relationship with God.

This brings me to another thing I’ve noticed about some Christian fiction: the fear some writers have of portraying God. The Bible is clear about adding or taking away words from its text, but we’re talking about fiction here, not altering the Bible. There seems to be anxiety with a lot of Christian authors when it comes to portraying God – not just the idea or reality of God, but the actual presence of God. In truth, each relationship with God is unique. He’s seen our most despicable behavior, he reads our dirtiest thoughts, he knows us on such an intimate level, and yet we’re afraid to portray that level of relationship to others, as if we’ll dishonor God by doing so. What better place to lay out characters and their relationships with God than the fictional world? Fiction leaves room for speculation and room for what ifs.

In my Black Earth series, God speaks to Daisy. He answers her tough questions. He comforts her in her darkest hours. He even communes with her on a joyous level. God is all these things to Daisy, but in reality, He should be all these things to us. Daisy shows us what a relationship – a true relationship, not a religious relationship – with God can really mean. She doesn’t just pray to Him and then take another beating. She prays, she speaks, she listens. And in return, God speaks and listens and comforts her.

Writing Daisy’s character and the relationship she has with God, I found I was able to create a character who is broken and yet searching with everything inside her for healing. Daisy realizes what true faith – and maturity – is when she realizes that God is asking the impossible from her.

This Friday, Daisy’s profile will be added to the Compendium. Next Monday we’ll take a look at Pearl’s background, and next Wednesday we’ll dive into the theme of inherited religion.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Writing and The Right to Write

A little while ago, I mentioned that I wanted to start another post series in regards to self-publishing, both to show the process that I go through to write/self-publishing/market my books, but also to hopefully help other self-publishing authors along the way. One thing I’ve noticed is that many self-published books – including Christian fiction – could use a little more time, effort, and quality invested in them before being given to the masses.

To start this series off, I want to discuss the basic of basics when it comes to being a self-published author – writing – and introduce you to some of the books, processes, and techniques that have helped me to become a better writer.

For me, writing began when I was just eleven years old. I was living in New Mexico at the time, and my 6th grade English teacher had tasked us with writing a short story. It would be my first. Titled Mission: Australia, my story had a pretty basic plot - a young boy squares off against a crime boss to save his sister. Little did I know that this would be the origin of my current young adult series, Expired Reality.

Fast forward to the early 2000’s. I stumbled across a unique mural inside of a local lazertag arena. It was designed like a comic book, with different panels across the walls, and there was a story in there. A story which called me to write again. I wasn’t sure where to start though. I hadn’t written since finishing my first novel at the age of sixteen. I was in my early twenties by this time.

To get myself started on the right track, I picked up a copy of Julia Cameron’s, The Right to Write. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the book – I believe someone had suggested it to me or I had seen an ad for it somewhere. I’m not sure. Doesn’t really matter. I picked up the book and dove in.

Julia’s own experiences with the craft of writing captured the pleasure and beauty of the act. Her words were magical, her descriptions of the writing process dead on. I ate through that book like it was a dessert buffet at The Cheesecake Factory. Her book helped to reinvigorate the small flame fledgling within me, spreading it through my bones, readying me for the writing adventures I would have shortly thereafter when I began to pen the Expired Reality series.

There are very few non-fiction books I can add to my favorites list, especially ones that have to do with writing instruction, but this is very close to the top. If you get a chance, I highly recommend this as required reading if you want to immerse yourself in the love and magic of writing.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Black Earth Character Spotlight - Daisy Pierce

Last week I gave a glimpse into the character of Alpha 1 – aka Thomas Black – from my Black Earth series. I also discussed the theme of violence in fiction and how it can be especially useful, if used right, in Christian fiction.

Today we’ll take a peek into the character of Daisy Pierce and what she means to the Black Earth series as a whole. On Wednesday, we’ll take a look at the theme of faith in Christian fiction. And on Friday, Daisy’s character profile will be added to the Compendium.

To begin, I’ll say that Daisy Pierce is probably one of the more important characters in my Black Earth series. Not saying that I play favorites, but there are just certain characters who show up in my writing who seem to have more impact, more importance, than others. Daisy is such a character.

She began simply as a sister for my main protagonist, Nathan Pierce. Daisy is older than Nathan by a few years, and is attending business classes in the local collage. The novels reveal that she has plans to possibly move to New York, although the reasons for the move are not revealed. In their youth, Daisy rescued Nathan from nearly drowning in a swimming pool, and since then they’ve been close, sticking by each other’s side even when their parents began to participate in heated arguments with each other and threaten to divorce.

Daisy’s background is hinted at throughout the series, but not a lot of it is pulled to the surface of the novels. One of the hints readers get is the relationship between Daisy and a man named Daniel, who mysteriously vanished shortly before the events of End of the Innocence. When Daisy and Daniel began dating, the council of Daisy’s church spoke out in regards to their disapproval of Daniel. No clear reasons were given – at least not to Daisy’s satisfaction – as to what the church had against Daniel, but because of the animosity toward him, both he and Daisy left the church.

Daniel eventually proposed to Daisy and they became engaged to be wed. A few days after the engagement though, Daniel went missing without a trace. Daisy hired private investigators, and even went out on a few limbs herself to try and find out where he went. But no solid information ever surfaced, and at the beginning of End of the Innocence, Daisy is making a courageous attempt to go on with her life, still unsure as to the whereabouts or fate of her one true love.

The Daniel and Daisy story is never fleshed out completely, and as the books go along, it gets buried under heavier plot lines and implications. I will spill the beans though and say that I have plans to possibly do a short story/novella in regards to their story. There is a brief glimpse into the lengths Daisy went to in order to find Daniel in the Mini Shot, Smoking Kills, but other than that, it’s a deep mystery as to what happened to Daniel. Maybe the TPS (Time Protection Society) had something to do with Daniel’s disappearance? Hmm…

It wasn’t until Daisy wound up rescuing Nathan at the end of the horrible events that transpire the night of his high school graduation that I realized exactly what Daisy meant to Nathan. It was then that I caught a glimpse of the impact Daisy was going to have on the series as a whole. And as I came to the end of writing End of the Innocence and penned the cliffhanger, it was clear to me that Daisy is the central character of the whole series. Yes, a majority of the series is drawn from the point of view of Nathan Pierce and the friends in his circle, but the ethical and moral dilemmas that show up in the series – freedom of religion, freedom of speech, injustice, faith – all orbit Daisy’s character.

Daisy’s personality really begins to shine in The Broken Daisy – a title which directly relates to her and her fate. I won’t spoil too much of the plot here, but Daisy’s faith both in God and the human race is tested severely as the series progresses, and she becomes Nathan’s reason for surviving the harsh darkness that ends up engulfing the world.

Daisy’s presence in the Black Earth series reveals how faith – true faith in God – can be implemented into a story in a natural and interesting manner. On Wednesday, we’ll take a look at how faith in general can be used in Christian fiction. And on Friday, Daisy’s profile will be added to the Compendium.

Friday, August 17, 2012

New Compendium Entry, Podcast Interview, and FB Group

This week I gave you all a glimpse into one of the most violent characters in my Black Earth series, Alpha 1, and I discussed violence and it's place in Christian fiction. Today I'm happy to say that a new entry to the website Compendium has been added: Alpha 1's character profile.

For those who are curious what the Compendium is, it is a (ultimately) massive database that I am building from the ground up that will house information on any and all things from both my Black Earth and my Expired Reality series. Each week, new entries will be added to the Compendium.

Podcast Interview 
Paeter Frandsen, creator of Spirit Blade, did an interview with me a little bit ago. In it, we talk about Black Earth: Dark Masquerade, my Black Earth series as a whole, and discuss the challenges of being an independent Christian artist. Check it out here -

New FB Group
A new Facebook group has been created - Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction. The group is designed to bring attention to this unique genre, and all are available to join. Check it out here -

On Monday, we'll take a good look at the character of Daisy Pierce from my Black Earth series, and on Wednesday we'll discuss faith and its true place in Christian fiction.

I'll also be dropping some thoughts on my love for writing next week in an effort to start up my series on self-publishing basics.For starters, we'll take a look at Julia Cameron's, The Right to Write, and how it influenced me as a writer.

Until then, have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Violence in Christian Fiction

On Monday I posted some exclusive background to the character of Thomas Black, or rather Alpha 1, a mercenary with an appetite for violence. Alpha 1 has become one of my favorite side-character villains, but the themes surrounding him were a challenge to write. Murder, violence, semi-genocide – none of those are attributes that are typically welcome in Christian fiction.

It’s no surprise that violent themes are usually frowned upon in novels that also carry Christian themes. Many people read Christian-themed novels for the innocence the genre is known to encapsulate. Prairie romances, Christian-themed mysteries, and supernatural thrillers fill Christian bookstores with plenty of material that can appease  readers looking for novel entertainment lacking ‘worldly’ stuff – like sex, violence, or coarse language.

But there’s another crowd out there that have a desire for Christian fiction that pushes the boundaries of convention and treads along lesser-traveled paths leading to great literary adventure.

In my Black Earth series, which falls under the category of edgy Christian speculative (scifi, fantasy,horror) fiction, the theme of violence made its way into the storyline early on with the introduction of Alpha 1. A malevolent mercenary who takes pleasure in obliterating an entire church camp in a hail of gunfire, Alpha 1 resembles the very character who is usually not welcome in a Christian novel.

I am aware that used irresponsibly, violence or any other edgy content can destroy a novel – Christian or non-Christian – however, one has to be especially careful bringing across themes of murder, bloodshed, and hate in a Christian novel. Alpha 1’s presence in the novel isn’t one to be taken lightly or one to be taken as a token of violence that I just threw into my story to prove that violence can work in Christian fiction. His arrival in the storyline ushers in a precedence set for the rest of the series: anything can happen. This is much different than just inserting him for shock factor.

I believe there are many books out there that have been written to formula. In these novels, good almost always wins, evil almost always loses, the redeeming qualities of each character are brought to light, and sometimes evildoers come to their senses and become heroes or anti-heroes. Sometimes these formulas come with the territory of genre. Sometimes these formulas are used lazily to keep the novel’s story in a box that has had a history of ‘working’. I have witnessed this ESPECIALLY in Christian fiction.

The whole theme of my Black Earth series is that Earth will be destroyed. The storyline follows the events leading up to Earth’s destruction and manages a glimpse into a multitude of different characters and what his/her impact is on the world before it is toppled by evil forces. In my writing, heroes fall, enemies succeed, and God does not necessarily come down to save the day – at least not in ways we would expect. A good portion of the series goes against formula and convention.

When Alpha 1 came on the scene, he was different than other characters I had created because he came into my novel with absolutely no limits. There are a few other characters in the book (we’ll get to at another time) who seem to have no limits as well, but Alpha 1 came into the picture in a cloud of smoke and a storm of gunfire that struck down an entire camp full of Christians. He is controversial, he is menacing, he pushes the boundaries of morals and human nature. And yet, he is a good example of the true evil that resides within our own world.

Everyone has at one time or another seen a newsfeed, read an article, known someone, or themselves been in a situation where evil dominates the canvas of life – at least for a moment in time. 9/11. Columbine. The recent movie theater massacre in Aurora. Gruesome images from these events filled out television screens and burned their images into our minds, reminding us of what humans are capable of if left unchecked. Alpha 1 is that true evil stepping out of our own world and into the pages of my stories. He exemplifies what is wrong with some of those among us. The sadistic, the utterly psychotic. And yet part of him is sane. Part of him is fully functioning and able to think and act like the rest of us. Human.

The scene in End of the Innocence when an entire campground is obliterated is a dark one. The details aren’t too horribly gruesome, but the very act itself carries with it the violence of the moment. Christians gunned down. Innocent children gunned down. It is horrendous. And yet it paints a picture just dark enough to allow the light emanating from other characters to shine through. Without darkness, one light is indistinguishable from many others. But against the backdrop of darkness, that one light is bright and easy to see, and it gives us hope.

There are many more acts of violence and evil throughout the novel series, but I wanted to shed discussion on this specific one because it was one of the more challenging scenes for me to write, and Alpha 1 is one of the most evil characters I have ever created – aside from Mr. Silver, but he’ll be in another post.

This Friday, Alpha 1’s profile will be added to the Compendium. Next Monday we’ll take a look at Daisy Pierce, and next Wednesday we’ll dive into the theme of true faith.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Hunger Games - Book Review

I was given The Hunger Games for my birthday a couple of months ago and made it a priority read, even though I have over a dozen books on my shelf that have been calling out my name to be read for over a year now. Now that the Hunger Game series is complete, a movie has been made, and the store shelves are complete with merchandise, I figured I’d finally get on the bandwagon and check what all the hype is about.

In case you’re wondering, I was avoiding The Hunger Games for a couple of different reasons. One being the issue of my reading backlist. The other being that the plot sounded too much like Battle Royale. As clunky as some of the writing was, Battle Royale was a great novel. You can check out my review for it here. But when The Hunger Games came around, I figured it was just a copycat of Battle Royale and decided to avoid it like I do so much other uninspired fiction and entertainment.

When I finally finished The Hunger Games (I’m referring to Book 1 in this review), I realized that there were enough differences in character, plot, and writing style to call The Hunger Games somewhat original when compared to Battle Royale. However, I won’t say I was enamored with the book overall.

The Hunger Games opens with a great character voice, that of Katniss Everdeen. One major thing that keeps The Hunger Games apart from Battle Royale is that Battle Royale was written from many different points of view and The Hunger Games focuses on one specific character, her story told in 1st-person. It works well for the book and does a great job getting me to invest in the character.

The plot of The Hunger Games is believable and tragic. You understand from the very beginning what the conflict in the story is and the seemingly impossible odds the characters in the book have to face in order to live day to day. I especially loved the parts about the hunting that goes on past the fence surrounding District 12 and the loyalties that the residents of the district have to each other as opposed to the Capitol. It gave a sense of hope in mankind and shed light on the aspect of community.

The book progresses along pretty smoothly. I enjoy Collins’s writing style. Never once did I have to stop and reread a passage to figure out what the author was trying to say. That’s important to me as a reader, because I have so many books I want to read, I really don’t want to be wasting my time having to reread stuff I’ve already read just to understand what the characters are doing or where they are in the story. I have trouble with this sometimes in some of Stephen King’s work. As much as I love his Dark Tower series, there are many times I have to reread passages to figure out what the heck is going on or what King is trying to say. Most of that is probably due to the fact that he has so much exposition in his novels. Collins does a good job balancing exposition with action to keep the reader moving along.

The world of The Hunger Games didn’t feel filled out. In Battle Royale, the characters question the government, their world, others around them. In The Hunger Games, it seems to be well-accepted that children will be thrown into an arena to kill each other at some point in their adolescence. The parents of these children don’t seem as broken up over this as I would expect them to be. Maybe if the world was ALWAYS like this from the time of its creation, I could believe it, but the book clearly explains that things were not always like this. I’ve heard that a rebellion begins in the second book in the series, but it felt strange that it didn’t start in this one.

When I read Battle Royale, it took hundreds of pages to get through the 42 contestants. It seems by the time I got about halfway through The Hunger Games, there are only a handful of participants left alive. And herein lies one of my gripes. The killings felt a little evasive – in regards to the author’s willingness to tell/show us what happened. I’m not asking for gratuitous violence – especially since this is a ‘young adult’ book – but I yearned for a little more description as to what happened to the other characters. Some seemed to just vanish into thin air, with no real details of how they died.

Battle Royale was also a bit more gruesome than The Hunger Games, as well as more psychologically rife. That’s one thing I didn’t find realistic about The Hunger Games. It seems some of the characters do in fact question the morals associated with killing one another, but they seem way more concerned with their own well-being than allowing a corrupt government establishment to turn them into murderers. Katniss barely questions killing anyone during her time in the arena. When she does finally make her first kill – intentional or not – she stops for a few seconds to ponder it and then she is off again on her adventure. I completely understand that one doesn’t have much time to get philosophical when in a bloodbath arena dueling others who want to kill you, but still. She seems to carry little to no remorse, and I find that to be somewhat disturbing in a novel aimed at such a young audience.

One thing that I did not like about the book was the ending.
*Spoiler Alert*

Throughout the whole book, I was anticipating Katniss to rebel against the Capitol. In fact, I told myself that if it didn’t happen, and if she just went along with the rules of the game and came out the winner simply due to the fact that she killed the rest of the participants, that I would hate the book. I mean, what purpose would the book even have if it just stood to chronicle a mass of kids killing each other for the amusement of a sick and twisted government?

First, I felt surprised, shocked, and somewhat confused when the wolves came into the arena. You know, the ones who are actually mutated versions of the other contestants of the Hunger Games. That was weird, felt a little out of place, and was never explained. Granted though, there are more books in the series, so I guess it’s kind of okay that this was left somewhat open ended. But it felt random.

Hope was instilled in me when Katniss and Peeta decide to rebel against the rules of the Game stating there could only be one winner after the rule was changed earlier to include two winners. It came as no surprise to me that the Capitol went back on the rules – they want entertainment, and I knew pitting two victors from the same district against each other would satisfy that need for an entertaining fight. When Katniss and Peeta decided to feign taking the poison berries so that the Capitol would have no victors, I was glad for the welcome story twist. 

From that point on, it felt as if there was another climax that was building up. There were still a few chapters left in the book, and I had hope that Katniss would rebel against the Games and start a riot or something and that would open up the door for the second book in the series. Maybe the wolf creatures would be explained. At least, that’s what I thought might happen. Instead, for a couple of chapters, the author builds up this crazy tension and anticipation. Katniss is filled with paranoia about what the Capitol is going to do to her and Peeta since they rebelled with the berries. So while the Capitol is putting on a show of crowning Katniss and Peeta as victors, you’re left waiting with bated breath as to what the Capitol really has up its sleeve. I mean, these two kids just pulled the government’s punk card. Surely there will be retribution.

I literally find myself on the edge of my seat as I rip through these last chapters, waiting for something great to happen, something to fulfill my desire for an uprising against this travesty of a government. I mean, we’re talking about twelve districts against a corrupt government. And yet, there isn’t much mention – if any (I don’t remember) – of anyone even attempting to create a rebellion of any sort, at least not since the Hunger Games have started. (The whole reason for the Hunger Games is because there was a failed rebellion attempt years earlier.)

Instead, I’m left with a lackluster ending that seemed to be built not around the Games themselves really, but around the theme of romance and betrayal. Peeta realizes that some of Katniss’s affection towards him was contrived. I’m not sure why he would be so surprised, seeing how he was playing up that angle in the very beginning. But at the end of the book, he seems truly hurt and offended that Katniss would do such a thing to him. And for some reason, Katniss suddenly has mixed feelings about Peeta. I can believe that part to a certain extent because it would be natural for her to feel close to Peeta in the arena when he was the only one she could really trust. But her feelings seem to take a violent swing toward the other end of the spectrum as she rides that last train home, and it doesn’t sit in my mind as all that believable.

I am debating on picking up the second book in this series. Some have told me it’s better than the first book, but I don’t know. Overall, The Hunger Games was a decent read, but it’s another one of those books that makes me scratch my head and ponder why in the world it gained so much buzz – enough to be made into a movie and eventually grow into a worldwide phenomenon.

To sum it up, the book was okay. Surely not the phenomenon everyone has been raving about. It entertained me, had a lackluster and anti-climactic ending, and probably could have used a bit more filling to make the pie sweeter.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Black Earth Character Spotlight - Alpha 1 (Thomas Black)

Last week I gave you a glimpse into the character of Cynthia Ruin – The Pink Rabbit – and we took a look at how sexual content, if used properly, can benefit Christian fiction.

This week we’ll take a look into the character of Alpha 1, a sadistic mercenary who embodies the concept of violence, and we’ll take a look at the theme of violence and its possible place in Christian fiction.

Alpha 1 – or rather Thomas Black (his birth name) – is one of the most violent characters ever to grace the pages of my fiction. I remember cringing during the very act of writing some of his scenes, especially in the beginning of End of the Innocence, the first book in the Black Earth series.

Thomas’s story begins on the streets of Chicago, when he was ten and was forced to watch his mother die in the torturing hands of a serial killer. When Thomas was thirteen, he walked in on his father committing suicide. After receiving counseling for his childhood atrocities, Thomas was then sent to live with his uncle in New York city, with whom he received home schooling.

Thomas soon discovered that his uncle was the leader of a clandestine mercenary group known as the Alpha Team. He learned the Alpha Team had been around for hundreds of years, working in the shadows and accomplishing tasks that the government, other mercenary groups, and even military leaders of other countries couldn’t accomplish.

Over the course of his adolescence, Thomas was then trained as a member of the Alpha Team. And at the age of 22, with is uncle dying, he took over as head of the group and received the title of Alpha 1. Fueled by hatred for humanity, Alpha 1 led hundreds of successful missions which ultimately changed the course of the United States and even the world. Most of these missions entailed simple thievery or sabotage, but during the majority of them Alpha 1 took the opportunity to kill, and he killed without emotion or regret. Innocent bystanders, witnesses, high-ranking officials and the peon assistants to those high-ranking officials. As the years went by, Alpha 1 rose in arrogance and malevolence to command the greatest mercenary group mankind never knew about.

In Black Earth: End of the Innocence, Alpha 1 makes his first appearance by wiping out an entire church camp in a swarm of gunfire. A violent scene which didn’t exactly agree with some of my readers, but one that I felt needed to be written for many different reasons: to show the evil that truly exists in this world, to reveal some of the cruel and bizarre personality of Alpha 1, and to create a crisis which eventually serves to showcase other characters.

Alpha 1 is the epitome of evil, and yet there is mystery surrounding his behavior. He kills, yet when he is finished killing, he takes time to dig a pit, burn the bodies, and stack the victim’s clothing neatly near the pit, as if he has respect for those he has destroyed. Some would easily assume that money is what fuels Alpha 1’s killing habits, but he seems to have a sense of purpose as well. To accomplish the tasks he and his Alpha Team have been given becomes priority each and every time.

Thomas Black‘s behavior could very easily be traced back to the events he witnessed as a child with the death of his parents, but also seems to have roots in the necessity of control. He watched his mother be tortured and killed by a serial killer and his father take the ‘easy’ way out through suicide. Thomas is filled with a bitter root in regards to the frailty of humanity and seeks to become stronger than that frailty, even going so far as to kill other Alpha Team members who are no longer able to contribute adequately to the goals of the rest of the team.

Thomas is another broken character in a long line of broken characters who run the gambit in my Black Earth series. One who needs salvation, one who needs severe adjustment to his outlook on life and the value of life. Through the series, you see glimpses of Alpha 1’s hatred toward God – both with his attitude toward the Bible and the narrator’s indication that the Devil is who sent Thomas Black to perform the heinous actions at the church camp.

Where will the Black Earth series take Thomas Black – Alpha 1? Only time will tell.

This Wednesday we’ll take a look at the theme of violence in the Black Earth series and how violence can serve a purpose in any fiction, especially Christian fiction. On Friday, Alpha 1’s character profile will be added to the Compendium on the official website, and next week we’ll take a look at Daisy Pierce and the theme of true faith in Christian fiction.

Friday, August 10, 2012

New Compendium Entry - Cynthia Scarlet Ruin

This week I gave you all a glimpse into one of the most broken characters in my Black Earth series, Cynthia Scarlet Ruin, and I discussed sexual content in fiction and it's place in Christian fiction particularly. Today I'm happy to say that the first new entry to the website Compendium has been added: Cynthia Ruin's character profile.

For those who are curious what the Compendium is, it is a (ultimately) massive database that I am building from the ground up that will house information on any and all things from both my Black Earth and my Expired Reality series. Starting this month, new entries will be added to the Compendium every week. Each is free to view, and each entry will fall into one of the seven categories the Compendium is comprised of:

Otherworldly Beings

If you get time, check out the Compendium and tell me what you think. I'm also open to taking requests of what you might want to see in the Compendium. Have a favorite character you want to know more about? Maybe there is a piece of technology or an artifact that is mentioned in the series that you want to explore. Or maybe you just want to know more about the different worlds in the Black Earth/Expired Reality universe. Whatever the case may be, drop me a line/comment and let me know, and I'll see what I can do.

Today though, Cynthia Scarlet Ruin has been added to the Compendium.

On Monday, we'll take a close look at the character of Alpha 1 from my Black Earth series, and on Wednesday we'll take a look at violence and its place in Christian fiction. I'll also be dropping my review of The Hunger Games (novel) in here at some point next week, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Until then, have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sexual Content in Christian Fiction

On Monday I posted a little bit about the character of Cynthia Ruin, or the Pink Rabbit, a sexual deviant in my Black Earth series. As a character, she was a challenge to create and write about, as much of her storyline contains references to sexual promiscuity, rape, and other forms of lustful actions.

That brings me to this week’s theme – sexual content in Christian fiction.

To begin, I want everyone know that I’m not posting this as an argument that sexual content has to be in Christian fiction in order for Christian fiction to be genuine or entertaining. This post is really just to discuss why and how I use sexual content in my Black Earth series – especially in regards to Cynthia Ruin – and how it’s worked for my story.

Why is sexual content avoided in most Christian fiction? I think many worry that putting sexual content in Christian fiction will endanger readers of Christian fiction and open the door for them to follow their own sexual vices. They believe that sexual themes written in the pages of a novel can illicit sexual thoughts/tendencies in the reader. As much as I understand where many people are coming from with this attitude, I think if sexual content is placed in Christian fiction in a responsible manner, it can add to the story and reveal deeper truths about sin and possibly lead to redemption. Although I will also admit, as I have in earlier posts, that some readers are more sensitive to certain themes – sex, violence, cursing – and have a legitimate reason for not wanting to venture near anything that expands upon these themes.

In reality, how many of us struggle with sex, either in regards to behavior or thoughts? Sex is a natural, God-given gift, and it is one that is constantly abused and misunderstood by both Christians and non-Christians alike. I’m sure that all of us have someone in our circle of influence who is struggling with their own sexual vices. Whether we know of these struggles is a different story, but I guarantee you that sexual sin and the consequences of it reach more people than you probably think.

Including sexual content in Christian fiction has the potential to help readers relate to certain characters, to the temptations these characters face, and help the reader move past these areas by bringing the issues out in the open. That’s from a Christian standpoint as to why I think sexual content can be included in Christian fiction.

From a writer’s standpoint, it gives the characters and storyline more realism – IF USED RESPONSIBLY. Please do not get me started on Fifty Shades of Crap.

Cynthia Ruin made her first appearance in my Black Earth series with a nightclub scene that quickly led into a rape scene. It was the most challenging scene I have ever written, but when all was said and done, her first time on stage gave my novel more weight and added incredible dimension to the storyline of the Black Earth series. The rape scene served to reveal much about Cynthia’s character, including her vices, her attitude toward life, and the way she reacts to crisis. The rape scene served a valuable purpose and lent legitimacy to her character.

I remember when Black Earth: End of the Innocence was first released in paperback and a family member called me up to tell me how disappointed they were with my decision to have a rape scene in the novel. It was tough to listen to this individual’s diatribe, but at the same time I felt proud knowing I had grown as an individual and as a writer. I had broken out of convention and pushed the boundaries of Christian fiction and the realities that Christian fiction could portray. I didn’t write the rape scene to be ‘edgy’, but the rape scene wrote itself when Cynthia came onto the page.

Once Cynthia is raped in the story, she is a different person. She has a new perspective of her life. It even seemed the rape caused her to head down the path of redemption. And while many have given me good reviews and comments in regards to the story itself and to how the rape scene was handled in particular, there are still those who don’t think sexual content – especially in large doses – belongs in Christian fiction at all.

In an interesting review posted for Black Earth: End of the Innocence, Contemporary Christian author Candy Little stated - 

“Although I loved the plot and found the characters well rounded and believable, I do have a few cautions as far as the Christian content. There is quite a bit of sexual content. The story line for Sin revolves around her having sex with many boys, but to include women also, was more than I could take.”

To be clear, I really appreciate the fact that Candy took the time to read/review my book. But the comment she made in regards to the sexual content reveals the attitude that many Christians have in regards to the inclusion of sexual content in books containing the Christian fiction label. It seems to be, according the review, that I took things too far with Cynthia having a history of sexual relations with women as well as men.

Cynthia is a broken individual. She doesn’t know what she wants, no clue as to the purpose of her life. And she experiments, manipulates, and uses sex to gain approval, recognition, even power. It is the one thing she knows she is good at, the one thing she is familiar with. To show Cynthia in any other light, to water down her past, to hide away the true feelings she has toward people as sexual objects, would be a travesty. It would require her character to be veiled in generalizations until there is just a two dimensional girl who is mentioned as having sexual tendencies. Sometimes the nitty gritty has to be brought to the page – both to create realism in the story, believability with the character, and recognition with those struggling with the same sin/behavior.

Writing sexual content into a ‘Christian fiction’ novel is never easy. Like any ‘edgy’ content, it can serve as a minefield that needs to be carefully traversed so that the heart of the story is not drowned in needless boundary-pushing content. This is why I always have a second set of eyes (my editor) look over my work, not just for grammar, but for content. There are many times my editor has instructed me that I took a scene too far or had content that just didn’t seem relevant to the story. And those are the times one does need to take heed and pull in the reigns.

I believe many elements that have been left out of a lot of Christian fiction can really help to draw people into the story being told and help the reader sort out their own experiences and struggles.

Next week we’ll take a good look at the theme of violence in Christian fiction. And this Friday, Cynthia Ruin's profile will be added to the Compendium on the website.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Black Earth Character Spotlight - Cynthia Ruin

This week starts my lengthy blog series that will explore the various characters and themes found in my Black Earth novels. My intention is to tie specific characters with the themes they embody, and to discuss how these themes can be used successfully in Christian fiction.

Mondays I will post about a specific character and give a little detail about the inspiration behind their creation and their place in the Black Earth novels. Wednesdays I will post in regards to the theme that week’s character is tied to. For example, today I’ll discuss the character of Cynthia Ruin and this Wednesday I’ll discuss sexual themes and their place in Christian fiction.

So without further ado, here’s a bit about…

Cynthia Scarlet Ruin. Known as Sin on her bad days. Known as the Pink Rabbit on her worst.

She is by far one of the most broken characters I have ever had the bittersweet experience of creating. The act of forming Cynthia’s character was the turning point for me in my writing endeavors, helping me to break out of my conventional boundaries and write outside of the box – especially the box that ‘Christian fiction’ attempted to put me in.

In the series, Cynthia is a teenager who has an uncontrolled sexual compulsion, a father who is never home, and a mother who sexually entertains many strange men under the Ruin roof. With a desire to make a name for herself, Cynthia created the persona of the Pink Rabbit – a female sex goddess who would do anything (sexually) with anyone (girls and guys) in order to gain reputation and status. Those who partook of the Pink Rabbit’s services were stamped with the symbol of Cynthia’s deeds – a pink rabbit. As word spread throughout Cynthia's school – and even into the church Cynthia’s mother volunteered as a youth leader in – Cynthia’s sexual icon grew in popularity with the students. She also grew in disgust with the faculty and parents who soon caught on to this demon woman who was turning the locations she traversed into makeshift brothels.

When I created Cynthia, I had no idea how important of a character she would eventually develop into. Her creation stemmed from a toxic relationship I had in my own past, a manipulative woman who was at the same time both ignorant to her behavior and extremely manipulative with it. At first my intention was to craft Cynthia into a side character who had little impact on the novel except to display a broken presence around the main protagonist of the series, Nathan Pierce. But it quickly became evident to me that Cynthia wasn’t going to be satisfied with a minor roll, and as Black Earth: End of the Innocence opened up, Cynthia pulled me straight into one of the most challenging scenes I have ever had to pen – her rape scene on the night of her high school graduation.

Writing a rape scene changed me as a writer because it allowed me to break the chains of my restricted writing conventions. Up until the Black Earth series, I had only written young adult fiction, and the young adult fiction I wrote was fairly clean cut and age-appropriate, especially in terms of sexual content. Black Earth allowed me to push past this limitation and explore the paths my characters were trying to reveal to me, even if they were paths that I was under the impression weren’t ‘appropriate’ to be written, especially in fiction that had Christian themes in it.

From the rape scene onward, Cynthia quickly became a major player in the series. Throughout the majority of the Black Earth novels, Cynthia struggles immensely with her sexual vices. When it is clear that the world is ending - and especially when she receives life-changing news at the end of Black Earth: End of the Innocence - Cynthia makes a firm decision to turn her life around. But it’s not easy to simply walk away from a life of sexual debauchery, especially since it ensconced her through a good portion of her adolescence. What makes the task harder is doing it without the help of God or friends. Rejecting God throughout the majority of the series, Cynthia attempts to turn a life of Sin into a life worth redemption, but constantly fails and ends up manipulating and hurting those around her.

Many of Cynthia’s scenes are written to detail the inner turmoil she struggles with in regards to the events surrounding her, the past she is trying to both evade and embrace, and the tumultuous relationship with her family. She is a character the reader’s heart breaks for, even if on the surface it doesn’t seem like Cynthia should be receiving any sort of sympathy.

Cynthia proves to show that there is something broken in each of us, and the majority of our lives are spent trying to fix that broken thing – whether it be sexual demons, drug addictions, or the multitude of other enemies - both physical and spiritual - we fight against every day. All we’re really looking for is hope. We search for that one individual or deity or entity that can piece us back together, to make us whole. Cynthia’s broken life stands to reveal to us our own broken nature and the need for a savior.

She is why sexual content can survive and thrive in Christian fiction, even Christian science fiction/fantasy, because she mirrors so much of ourselves and those around us.

To this day, Cynthia continues to be a favorite character among most fans. As the Black Earth novel series comes to a close later this year with Black Earth: Bridge to Anaisha, where will we find Cynthia? Will she ever find redemption?

On Friday, Cynthia’s character profile will be added to the Compendium on the official website. And next week we’ll be exploring the character of Alpha 1, a sadistic mercenary who is a demon if one ever walked the earth. We’ll also be exploring the theme of violence in the Black Earth series and how the theme can be used in Christian fiction.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Call For Excellence in Self-publishing

This week I’ve been slowly making my way toward a full blown blog series regarding the characters and themes in my edgy Christian speculative fiction series, Black Earth. Monday I posted about how prude some Christians can be in regards to the entertainment that non-Christians and Christians enjoy. Wednesday I posted about the bad rap that Christian fiction seems to be getting nowadays and ways that I’d like that to change.

Today, I’d like to dive into the quality of self-published fiction. I am going to discuss this in regards to non-Christians and Christians alike, but one of the points I want to make is if Christians want people to take their fiction more seriously – especially Christian fiction that falls outside the boundaries of industry-controlled genres – we need to get serious about the business.

And that brings me to my main point. For most, self-publishing needs to be treated as a business. Yes, self-publishing originally had some of its beginning’s (at least in this era) as a means for those who wanted to publish smaller or limited quantity books such as family ancestry compilations, poetry books, or children’s books. But nowadays self-publishing is very much a business. If you are self-publishing a family ancestry compilation or a picture book for your adorable cousin, then this ‘business’ perspective probably won’t apply to you. For the rest of us, we need to approach this as seriously as we would if we were starting up a mom and pop cafe down the street.

I’ve taken notice of many self-published books on the market which are really just giant tomes of crap. I won’t feature any here because I don’t think that would be nice to those individuals, but in reality there are many self-published novels I have come across that have repulsive covers, abhorred formatting, and show a complete disregard for the fine art of editing. Yes, a COMPLETE disregard for editing. It’s sad really, and it gives self-publishing a bad name. Regardless if these books have a great story to tell, that story is getting lost in the poor quality of the vessel chosen to relay the story to readers.

Let’s take it a step further, into the realm of Christian fiction. I have noticed that Christian fiction already carries a negative stigma when it comes to certain sub-categories of this genre. Christian romance is really popular and does well in the Christian fiction market. Christian sci-fi or fantasy or horror? Not so much. There is an audience for this type of fiction, but trying to rally together and reach those who want this type of fiction can be a challenge.

So let’s take the crappy quality of the unedited novel with the mish-mashed cover and stick it in the Christian sci-fi genre, and what do we get? Nothing. Nobody is going to pick that up. Nobody is going to read it. And when I say nobody, I mean others aside from friends/family who are ‘reading’ this work simply out of a duty to support those close to them.

So with a genre that already has the odds against it, is it any wonder that the odds become even greater when our work comes out subpar? It doesn’t surprise me, and it shouldn’t surprise you.

There are ways to fix this though. Time and effort.

Now, I completely understand how overwhelming self-publishing can be. It’s a beast. You have to wear many hats if you want to succeed, and those hats include writing, book design, marketing, social networking, sales, public speaking, etc., etc., etc. It can be exhausting, and it can stretch your patience.

Starting in the next week or so, I’m going to devote some posts to the different areas of self-publishing. I am by no means an expert. Each day I am learning something new in regards to one of those hats I mentioned above. I’ll simply share my experiences, drop some tips and tricks to help those of you trying your hand at the biz, and point you in other directions that may be helpful to you in your endeavors.

The first post I’ll feature is the first act that comes before self-publishing, where everything starts: writing. Keep your eyes peeled for it! And Monday I’ll be starting my series which will explore the characters and themes of my Black Earth series, starting with Cynthia Ruin and sexual themes in Christian fiction.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Christian Fiction's Bad Rap

On Monday I posted about how some Christians stray away from any type of entertainment that doesn’t fulfill their idea of good Christian morals and ethics.

I’m not going to venture near that hornet’s nest today. Instead I’m going to talk about the sadness within me that is Christian fiction in today’s society. Not ALL Christian fiction. I love me some Tosca Lee and Ted Dekker, and a handful of others. But that’s it – a handful.

I think the issue I want to rant about today pertains to the lack of exciting and/or realistic Christian fiction in today’s writing market and the impact it is having on the attitude of readers (both Christian and non-Christian) venturing out to give Christian fiction a chance. This is the main reason why I created the umbrella Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction under which I contain my Black Earth series. It is Christian fiction but it contains the elements – violence, sexual themes, cursing, magic, other worlds, aliens, rape, etc – missing from much of today’s typical Christian fiction.

Now, to start off, I’m not saying that Christian fiction HAS to have any one of these things to be good fiction. I’m also not saying that I include these elements in my own fiction simply to appease a particular demographic. The problem is that I have a hard time finding authors who can craft great Christian fiction to begin with because they veer so far away from these elements that they end up on the other side of the pendulum putting out corny, generic, watered-down religious fiction.

I know one of the main problems is that many Christians believe that Christianity and any one of the elements listed above clash in such a way that there is no way for fictional entertainment to contain the both of them without our reality imploding from the very act. If the f-bomb is dropped, it can’t possibly be considered Christian fiction, right? If a woman is raped, if a villain wipes out a church camp in a spread of gunfire, if a character refuses the path of redemption by the end of the book, it can’t possibly be appropriate for Christian audiences or be publicly revealed as having been written by a Christian author. Right? Right?! Please, say yes so that you feed my insecurity issues about writing outside of the Christian box religion built for me! Say it!!!

Sorry, I’ve had a lot of coffee with my sugar as of late, and I’m growing a bit passionate about this topic. Aside from Christian romance, which is a different animal altogether, I've noticed that most Christian fiction falls into three specific categories:

The Ambush Novel - You have Christian fiction that is written for non-Christians specifically – a sermon in the guise of a ‘great’ and/or ‘epic’ fantasy, science fiction, or horror novel. When the reader gets deep into the story, they are hit with what is clearly a sermon preaching a clear message of repentance and the need to turn to Christ or there will be much burning in Hell. This leaves the reader dumping the agenda-driven book on the floor in disgust, wishing it wasn’t against their beliefs to burn books for being stupid. And yes, I call books like that stupid. Because they are. Get over it. People read FICTION books to be entertained, not preached to. Trying to poorly disguise a religious agenda in a story only to ambush the reader with it after they’ve invested much of their time is stupid and gives Christian fiction a bad name.

This isn’t to say that Christian fiction or mainstream fiction can’t have some sort of agenda, but it needs to be brought through the story naturally. Of course, writing fiction, there’s always some sort of message we’re trying to get out to the world whether we are fully aware of the issue or not. Readers don’t need one that’s going to jab them in the eyes and pull the rug out from under them.

Christian-Themed Stories – These books are great stories written by talented authors such as Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee, and Frank Peretti. These are books that clearly or semi-subtly advertise themselves under the Christian fiction category. They contain great stories, with great characters, with Christian symbolism or themes throughout. These are the ‘handful’ I mentioned earlier that can get away with telling a great story without having to include my many fictional vices – although they too are ‘edgy’ in their own right.

Secular Fiction Written By a Christian (Crossovers) – These books hold Christian themes that are not plainly obvious. These themes are found threaded throughout a book full of violence, sexual themes, and occasional cursing. These books resemble the literary equivalent of Switchfoot. Switchfoot’s music is enjoyed by both Christian and non-Christian’s alike because the themes carried through their music are evident to Christians but not overbearing (and sometimes not apparent) to non-Christians. I applaud books with this quality because they have the ability to entertain Christian and non-Christian alike. Brent Weeks is the only author so far that I have read from who exemplifies this type of fiction. Read the Night Angel trilogy. Now. Do it! In fact, my good friend Paeter Frandsen did an audio interview with Brent Weeks where Brent speaks about his clear Christian faith. Check it out here.

The stigma that I see going around is that the term 'Christian fiction' just isn't well-accepted in non-Christian circles. I know some of it is because some people are just genuinely not interested in religious fiction of any nature. But I also know that some of the reason Christian fiction is avoided is because it is stereotyped as being preachy, boring, corny or any other number of lame descriptions. And it's a shame because not all fiction with Christian themes falls into these descriptions. But the ones that do leave such a sour taste in reader's mouths that it's hard to rise above this generalized idea of what Christian fiction entails.

I guess some of it boils down to who you’re writing for. If you’re only writing for Christians and you want to approach that demographic specifically, then by all means keep your fiction clean cut and relevant to Christians. However, my advice would be to try and reach both Christian and non-Christian alike in a non-preachy manner. You – oh wait, you want me to go back to what I said about keeping your fiction clean cut and relevant to Christians? I did say that, didn’t I? The problem is, what is relevant to Christians as opposed to what is relevant to non-Christians? Don’t we all struggle with the same things in this life? The only difference is that Christians have accepted Christ’s redemption on the cross. But we all – Christian and non-Christian alike – struggle with the elements of evil in this world. Violence, death, suicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, abuse, jealousy. We are all sinners, so is it safe to assume that a Christian fiction story that contains the struggles of this world in a realistic light can be relevant to both non-Christians and Christians?

This isn’t by any means an argument to conform to the world in order to appeal to it, but remember that as a Christian, we are ‘in’ the world. And to write fiction that mirrors the world we live in – with all of its vices – appeals to a larger audience of readers because it is believable fiction. And I think it’s a step that SOME of us Christian writers may be called to take. I assure you, not everyone is called to write fiction like this, but those of us that want to take a step outside the boundaries that the Christian market would like to put us in should do so now. And remember, it’s not simply the act of wrapping a sermon in an f-bomb burrito, but it’s more about telling a great and entertaining story and threading themes of redemption, holiness, and forgiveness throughout.

I think we as Christian writers should also take more pride and put more effort into the fiction we do write. But the quality of Christian fiction is a post for another day. Friday. See you then.