Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The agony he goes through as he wrestles with certain principles and moralities he has always upheld and what he knows he must do as a Christian is the same agony I faced with forgiving my brother many years ago.
I learned that no matter how heinous the crime committed, God will forgive that sin when the person gives his or her life over to Christ. Christ died for ALL sin and sinners, not just a select few. This includes thieves, murderers, homosexuals, and those convicted of sexual crimes.
Over twenty-five years ago, my brother was arrested for a sexual crime involving younger boys. I had already written him off as my brother because he’d been in and out of prison so often on drug and other charges. My mother pleaded with me to forgive him because our pastor had gone to visit him in jail, and my brother had made a confession of faith and become a Christian.
That was a bitter pill for me to swallow. I refused to accept the idea that God could forgive him for being a pedophile. That was in mid-December and I was busy with our oldest son’s wedding and then the Christmas program at church and the holidays. I pushed it to the back of mind, thankful that few people remembered my maiden name and wouldn’t associate him with me. I was too ashamed to tell any of my Christian friends since most of them didn’t know I had a brother to begin with.
Still, I wrestled with what I should do, continuing to ignore what I read in the Bible and what I knew I should do. In January, my mother called me again to tell me that my brother had been sentenced to forty years in prison and asked me to pray for him. My mind couldn’t wrap itself around the fact that my brother asked for God to forgive him and God did. When I went in and talked with our chaplain at school, he smiled, handed me his open Bible, and said, “You know what you have to do. You know what God expects. So do it.”
He then left me alone with his Bible open to Matthew 6:14 and15. Those words burned into heart and I cried and prayed for God to forgive me for not believing He could change my brother. Then I prayed and forgave my brother. When I wrote to him and told him I loved him and forgave him, he wrote back and said I was the one family member whose forgiveness he most wanted because he’d always looked up to me and loved me because of the way I had taken care of him as a child when our parents divorced and mother worked all the time.
In writing Cory’s experience for Spring Hope, I relived those days and even now as I write this my eyes fill with tears. We serve such an awesome God. He turned my brother’s life around. It was also a major turning point in my own walk with the Lord. When I opened up and gave this testimony about my brother and God’s love and faithfulness, instead of the scorn and contempt I expected from my friends, I was overwhelmed with love and support.
God is in the miracle business. This is just one example in my own life and my family. My brother now leads a Bible study and meditation group in prison. With our parents both gone on to be with the Lord and my sister’s situation, I am the sole support of my brother. I am so thankful that I have money to send him for the basics he needs, and that my husband fully supports me in it.
Our Lord and Savior came for all humanity. Despite our sins, He loves us and wants us as His children and proved it with the ultimate sacrifice of His life. Praise God from all blessings flow. My hope is that others will see the awesome love of Jesus Christ and will right any relationships that may be askew in their own lives.
Is there a time in your life when our Lord revealed what He wanted you to do, but you had to wrestle with the decision before you finally obeyed? I’d love to hear your experience and how God worked in your life.
Monday, August 29, 2011
I have to admit, I just sort of sat there for long seconds of stupefied silence. I was confused: Horror is my genre. I wanted to say, "No, no, I write horror. Look, I've got monsters!" I wanted to whip out my pedigree of horror-dom to prove to this person that I was a horror writer! At last, I stumbled and said, "Well, I'm a Christian. It just sort of comes out." The reporter nodded, jotted it down, and I believed I'd come up with a great answer.
But, as time has moved on, I'm not so sure.
There are some who can honestly give that answer. Recently I attended a writer's workshop and Robert Liparulo was in attendance. He relayed an encounter where someone came up to him and asked, "What's Christian about your stories?", to which he replied: "Me." That's a great answer and I think probably fits Bob perfectly. But, in my The Coming Evil books, no one who has read the book will ever have to ask the question: "What's Christian about your stories?" It's everywhere. I write about Christian characters dealing with specific struggles that Christians can relate to--things that "non-believers" don't necessarily understand. Book Two of the trilogy, Enemies of the Cross, has just got a fancy new cover. The book's getting closer to release date. It deals with anger towards God. Doubt--not in God's existence or power, but in His judgment. Does God really know what He's doing in my life? I think that's a unique circumstance to the Christian experience.
Understand, when I started writing these books, I had no idea about markets or target audience. I just had a love for the story and these characters and a desire to communicate my own faith journey. And, as much as I always wanted to believe that this series would be a cross-over success--something that Christians and secular horror audiences would enjoy--it's just not happening that way. Why? I've got monsters all over the place! I wrote this thing from a lifelong love of horror--years of my knowledge, influences, and passions boiled into one cataclysmic event!!
Perhaps the reason is that this isn't a novel in the "horror" genre. Could it be I wrote in the "Christian genre"? If that's so, it's certainly not because I chose to, but rather it's chosen me.
If only Christians read my book, is that a bad thing? It's a smaller audience, yes. A much smaller audience, given the global stage. But if I can challenge them, help them to grow, to excite them about their faith--even just simply entertain them with my story I will always think of as a monster/horror story--I don't see any shame in that.
As Christian writers, whether we're writing in the "Christian genre" or not, ultimately we have to trust this story inside us. We believe God's put it there--or at least blesses the fruits of the imagination He's given us--so we have to trust it will find its audience. That it will serve its purpose, whatever that purpose may be. I'm trying to trust that, to let the story be what it needs to be, regardless of genre or audience.
But it's an interesting question to me: Is "Christian" a genre? Or is it simply a perspective the writer brings to a genre? If it is a genre, is it possible to have a book published by a Christian Fiction publisher and yet not be of the "Christian genre"? Questions abound!
Friday, August 26, 2011
“Martha?” he said, “how often have you repeated the Psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd? Well, think of me as your good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. A hired hand, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and runs away. he leaves the sheep to be snatched and scattered by the wolf. He flees because he cares nothing for the sheep. I will never do that to you.”
Jesus in “The Book of God” by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
Yes, it is Homeboy Jesus!
My friend, Chan, came up with a killer idea for an opening illustration for his speech. His audience would be a group of teachers and he was assigned the job of discussing the new classroom guidelines for correcting student misbehavior. His idea: recount the Sermon on the Mount speaking as Jesus with the disciples interrupting him in the same manner a student might interrupt a teacher.
The illustration was masterful and incredibly funny. I almost fell out of my chair and I will not share the specifics of the speech with you other than to say he concluded it with the words: “And Jesus wept!”
He received one negative critique of his presentation from our communication workshop. What would people in the audience think about him putting words in the mouth of Jesus? We should only use the actual words of Christ from the Scriptures, right?
I have often faced this dilemma in my writing, particularly if it is a historical or period piece taking place at the time of Christ. How do you handle Jesus’ dialogue? Is it appropriate to make up dialogue that Jesus might have said? Or, is doing so tantamount to blasphemy? In fact, can you even show Jesus to the audience? How do you describe him physically?
These questions are good ones and we often wrestle with how to deal with putting words in the mouth of Jesus, or for that matter, God. In fact, I have a hierarchy. God first, Jesus second, the disciples third and then it is fair game for anyone else. Certainly the author of such books as The Shack had no problem putting words in the mouth of God or Jesus. And, I just finished Imaginary Jesus where lots of dialogue was put in the mouths of various Jesuses (or is it Jesi?).
I ran across an interesting series of blog posts by Anna Lewis. In her posts, Anna discusses the challenge of creating Jesus on the stage. In her play, she wrestles with the conundrum of the silent, but visual Jesus and the visible but audible Jesus. She references the American history professor, Robert Detweiler with this conclusion:
Detweiler argues that the proselytizing nature of Christianity is at odds with writing good literature about Jesus. The religious writer, he states, “finds himself caught in an uneasy liaison: the doctrinal Jesus he propagandizes and the symbolic Christ he tries to fashion invariably get in the way of each other, so that eventually both the art and the all-important message of his story suffer.”
In her play, she chooses to demonstrate Jesus with unconventional, but modern activities such as skateboarding in order to connect Jesus to her audience. But, she never puts a word in Jesus’ mouth:
Jesus doesn’t say a word in the whole play. Ironically, after distancing the audience from Jesus as a doctrinal figure and making him seem a true character, silencing Jesus allows the audience to apply their own perceptions of Jesus to the staged Jesus. Whenever Jesus communicates, the audience cannot hear him. They are required to hear the interpretation of what he says given by the other characters, none of whom is reliable. This allows the audience a certain amount of freedom in ascribing meaning to the stage Jesus. Instead of having to reconcile the stage Jesus’s words and tone with their own imagined deity, they are allowed to interpret his actions as they may.
In the written word, authors may choose to show Jesus from a distance or to have Jesus appear in a vision or dream thus distancing the fictional Jesus from the real Jesus to achieve this purpose.
So, what is the solution? I really can’t say. I’d like to hear from other authors on this issue. Do we put words in the mouth of God as moviemakers did in “Bruce Almighty”? Can we put words in the mouth of Jesus? Here is Anna’s final decision:
So the greatest dilemma in writing my play was to keep my audience from walking out on me. I want to emphasize again, that I am not talking merely about a conservative, Christian audience. Knowing my audience is imaginary makes it much larger. It’s not only that I don’t want my audience to feel I’ve betrayed their beloved image of Jesus, but I also don’t want them to think that I have turned him into the saccharine-sweet, happy-ending-maker that will be predictable to them.
How do we “keep the audience” from putting aside our stories and walking away? How do we handle depicting Jesus or God in our fiction?
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Place should be revealed early in each scene. Does the scene take place indoors or out? If inside, what kind of building, with what kind of furnishings? If outside, is it rural or urban? There are a lot of varying settings that paint your book.
Another important element is the weather. And weather can add to the tone of the book. We all know that stormy weather increases the darkness of a brooding mystery or gothic novel. Sunshine can add to the feeling of well-being.
How should you use setting? When I first started writing, I dumped large sections of description of setting into one place. Tracie Peterson, my editor at the time, told me that she didn’t want a laundry list description of the setting. Her words really revealed to me what I was doing. Thank you, Tracie.
If you’re an author, you should read multi-published authors and see how they include setting in their books. I will add this caveat. Many authors who write suspense don’t use as much setting, because it can slow down the pace of certain scenes – those edge-of-your-seat scenes. But they use setting snippets in other places.
When you're reading a book, what kinds of settings do you prefer?
Has a particular setting ever made you stop reading a book?
--Lena Nelson Dooley, winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award for excellence in western fiction
Monday, August 22, 2011
I get approached often by folks with story ideas they want to share with me. Usually they pull me aside and lower their voices like they're about to disclose the secrets that will once and for all blow open the mystery of the Kennedy assassination. As if their story is so remarkable, so fantastic, they fear for their life that someone will hear it and run with it before they get a chance to tell it to me and thereby claim a portion of the glory for themself.
It goes something like this:
"I have this story I know will sell millions. What if a scientist found some dinosaur DNA and was able to recreate dinosaurs by blending the DNA with that of a living reptile. And what if the dinosaurs broke loose and starting terrorizing New York City, killing people, stomping buildings, destroying everything. Well, what do you think?"
Um, I think that story's already been told.
Or sometimes like this:
"Okay, this one is a sure hit. What if a woman didn't want to be a woman anymore and had a scientist take parts from an ape and implant them in her, and what if she then slowly mutated into an ape and fell in love with a silverback gorilla. Only the silverback knows she really isn't an ape and tries to kill her. She escapes to America where she is put in a zoo and eventually drowns because she falls in the water and gorillas can't swim. Awesome, huh?"
Yeah . . . no.
But my favorite always goes like this:
"Okay, here's the beginning . . . a man wakes up one morning to discover he's invisible. There, I got you started now you take it from there and run with it."
[Insert blank stare and sound of crickets here.]
Do you have a story burning inside you? If so, here's my suggestion: you write it. No one knows your story like you do and no one has the passion for your story like you do. It's your story and only you can write it.
Friday, August 19, 2011
I had a thought the other day about how other writers have affected me and what made me start writing. I can remember when I read my first series; it was, Narnia, of course. Because I enjoyed that series so much my father suggested that I read one of Stephen Lawhead’s books. Steve was in my dad’s Bible study group so he told me to come down after class and Steve would bring me an autographed copy of his book, The Dragon King (which I didn’t understand, why would he be writing HIS name in MY book?) I could have cared less. I wanted a lion not a dragon. Needless to say I ended up reading the entire series and loved it! Since then I have always had a book close by, or I’m writing one. My taste for books has widened. I can’t pick just one genre but I can tell you what a few authors have taught me about writing.
Along the lines of Lawhead, Lewis and Tolkien, I enjoy the allegory that makes you think beyond the obvious and dig deeper. John Jakes made me appreciate historicals, which was a major feat after having the most boring history teacher ever. And although I didn’t used to enjoy romances, the book, Mrs. Mike, showed me that a realistic story about relationships could be done tastefully. Janet Evanovich taught me how to add humor into my stories. Even the darkest or most serious of books can use a little comic relief to bring out another side of a character. The classics made me realize the changes in the literary industry and to learn from the ‘greats’.
I’m not a big horror fan but reading Stephen King’s, The Stand, was powerful and filled with symbolism. My dad has read all of the Louis L’Amour books at least twice. Louis may as well have lived at our house as often as he was there in thought. My dad taught me to look for the ‘take away’ in his books which gave the story more meaning. Francine Rivers took a giant leap when she wrote one of the first ‘edgy’ Christian fiction stories. Her, Mark of the Lion, series is still my favorite. Francis Chan wrote a non-fiction book that was so incredible I started reading non-fiction again.
Last but definitely not least is, The Way, my first Bible, you know the author. I wouldn’t have chosen to write in the Christian market if I hadn’t studied the Book when I was a teenager and on into adulthood. Because my faith is as much a part of me as taking a breath, the Christian undertone that is weaved into my stories is not forced. Its how I think and how I feel, not a sermon, just a way of thinking about life when you’re a Christian, and if you’re not a believer, how to get there. I don’t ever want to write preachy. I want readers to tell me if I do, but if my story doesn’t show that Way of living I’m being a hypocrite. I hope I’m finding that balance in my writing and in life.
Questions: What authors inspired you to write?
What authors and in what genres do you like to read?
Monday, August 15, 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Thursday, August 4, 2011
My first draft is like the orchestra warming up. All the parts are there, but there may not be any harmony at all. Then I begin to rewrite and each instrument does it part and a beautiful symphony, concerto, or rhapsody emerges, but there may still be places where things don’t quite fit. These are the rehearsals that correct tempo or timing.
Then my editor gets it and she goes over it with her “editor eyes” and finds the places where a sour note crept in, or a one instrument is trying to take over and the story slogs along. Her suggestions pull everything together to make the finished product ready for the performance.
Even when I get the galleys, I may find a place or two where I think of a better word or find little mistakes that will mar the finished piece. Wish I could say I always find them and correct them before the final, but things do slip by.
Going back and adding sensory detail, emotions, snippets of setting, more beats than tags, and maybe going deeper into POV is fun for me. Maybe there are others like me who just want the story to come out then go back and fill in the notes to make music that will take people away to another time and another place.
What say you? What are your feelings about the revision/rewriting part of your writing?
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Which is precisely why I wanted to write it.
I don’t fault the anthology for turning me down. We had a great talk about it and parted in perfect agreement that this wasn’t meant to be. But, as I look at more and more anthology submissions, I see a lot of “We want something that no one has ever, ever seen before” or “We want so out-of-the-box, that the out-of-the-box people are blown away!” I’m not going to sit and quote the whole “Nothing new under the sun” argument, because that’s been done (irony? :p). I understand uniqueness. I understand the aim to write something original and not just derivative of every book you’ve ever read. You don’t want to be a copycat. That’s bad writing.
But, at the same time, we’re a sum total of our experiences. I grew up reading stories and watching movies about small backwater towns taken over by monsters. Those tales really resonated with me because I lived in a small backwater town. It was personal. Growing up, I looked forward to the day that I could write my own “backwater town versus evil” story. Is it an original concept? No. A billion writers have used it—a lot of them better than I could. In fact, Stephen King uses it for nearly every single novel he’s ever written. But I’ve been chomping at the bit to do a story like that all my life—to put my own spin on it—and I don’t feel like I should not write it, just because it’s been done.
I suppose I could spend my career chasing after that one idea that no one has ever, ever thought of. Ever. In the history of humankind. Ever. But, if I did that, I'd probably never get started writing because it's all been done, to some degree. I'm not saying I'm not looking to chart the uncharted--but I imagine, should I ever find that corner of the imagination that no human mind has ever tapped, it'll be by dumb accident. In the meantime, I want to write the stories that I wanted to read growing up. I like the classic “guy in a fedora hunts monsters” from time to time. I like alien invasion stories. Those stories meant something to me and that’s what I want to write. There’s a reason those stories have been told and re-told. There’s a potency to those concepts that speak to something deep inside us. And, while those stories have been around forever, they’ve never been told by me. Never with my own experiences thrown in; my own unique way of looking at things. In concept, they may sound tired, but I encourage you to look beneath the surface and find what’s unique about it.
What’s unique is me.
So, where do you find the balance between originality and treading the well-traveled paths of previous stories?
Monday, August 1, 2011
Several years ago I took a tour of the now closed Animator’s Building at Disney MGM Studios. Disney had moved roughly 80 animators from California to Florida to work on such classics as “Lilo & Stitch”, “Mulan”, and “Brother Bear”. A wall of windows allowed tourists to look down on a huge open space filled with animator cubicles. Each cubicle contained the same wooden animators desk with the illuminated circle over which paper was place to draw scenes. But, what was so striking was how unique each cubicle had been rendered (pardon the pun) by each animator. Cubicles contained posters, drawings, stuffed animals, models, and toys!
I came home and transformed my writing space into a “creative cocoon”. I appealed to each of my five senses:
TASTE: This was very easy. I like jelly bellies of all kinds of flavors. Each flavor evokes a different feeling of time and space. Pineapple reminds me of Hawaii. Buttered popcorn of the latest movie I saw.
But, I can’t write without coffee. And, coffee can be so ordinary at times. So, I ordered these two earthen mugs from the Rabbit Room. They are fashioned after the mugs from the Lord of the Rings movies. I put my coffee in one of the mugs and when I heft it, and heft it I do for it is quite stout, I imagine myself surrounded by the songs of Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin. I am inspired!
SMELL: I keep different scented candles and pick a fragrance reminding me of a specific locale I am using in my novel. I have a candle that reminds me of the clear, cold mountain air; a candle that smells like fresh baked apple pie; a candle that is exotic and reminds me of far away lands. I am inspired!
TOUCH: I keep several objects at arm’s length that have different tactile sensations. For instance, a large coral ball polished to perfection or five small pebbles from the valley where David killed Goliath or a chunk of fragrant cedar wood from the trees in an Alaskan rainforest.
SOUND: I love music and over the years I have collected hundreds of soundtracks. I pick pieces that evoke certain emotions or tensions and construct lists in iTunes. I label these lists with titles such as Conflict, Escape, Danger, Otherworldly, etc. Some lists have character’s names on them and to listen to the music is like listening to a mini-concert reflective of that character’s personality. I find odd and bizarre musical compositions using foreign instruments. For “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye” coming in October, I found an entire musical suite based on ancient Aztec music played with reproductions of instruments from that period. I played it in the background while working on portions of the book that applied to Aztec history and practices.
SIGHT: I surround myself with hundreds of visual cues. Everywhere I travel, I try and find items that will allow me to recall memories from those places. I collect Disney collectibles because of my respect for the genius of Walt Disney and his classic tales. I have one of the first Darth Vader masks, almost thirty years old. It gazes down upon me from a nearby shelf. Not long ago, Greg Mitchell and I were discussing monsters and our love of the classical monster movies. In my childhood, I built models from these monsters and other science fiction movies. Unfortunately, only two survive. I have a badly scratched model of the robot from the original Lost in Space series. And, I have a model of the original Enterprise from the early seventies. It is missing one of the nacelles, but I have it positioned so it looks like it is about to go to warp speed over my desk. Hanging above the door to my library is the “Periodic Table of Storytelling”. However, my most inspiring piece is a gift from my son. It is a simple sign with the words, “Never Surrender Dreams” from Babylon 5 and it is hand signed by J. Michael Straczynski. But, my prize possession is my very first rejection letter from 1975 when I was finishing high school. It is from the Isaac Asimov Science Fiction magazine and it is hand signed by this icon of science fiction!
All of these visual cues stimulate my creativity. They help me kickstart a moment of writer’s block. They jolt me out of a scene that has become too pat and predictable. And, all I have to do is look up, look around, and let my mind explode with imagination!
What is your writing space like? Do you have a writer’s “cocoon of creativity”? How do you keep your creative side fresh?