Thursday, May 31, 2007
Next, I have a request. Have any of you Blogger blokes updated your templates through New Blogger to use the layouts? I tried to do this once and it seemed to bugger up everything, so I pulled a Monty Python, cried "Run away!" and bagged it.
If you have updated your template, was it easy to use? Worth it? Would you please share your feedback with me? I am looking at updating the look of ye ol' blog, and would appreciate any suggestions of help. Thanks in advance!!
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
*collective groan throughout cyberspace*
...what if we had some of the best and brightest in Christian fiction trade genres with each other?
Ted Dekker writing his version of a prairie romance.
Lori Wick writing Peretti style spiritual warfare.
Rene Gutteridge taking a page from Robert Liparulo.
Brandilyn taking on chick-lit a la Kristin Billerbeck. (Whoops, already done. See 4/10, 4/11, 4/12)
Anyone else have any unique parings that would make for an interesting read?
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Basically, I wanted to add a little balance to what I said. Last week I was reading in my devotional time when I came across this passage, 1 Corinthians 10:23-33.
I made the plea for freedom for the Christian artist to produce the kind of art that they feel led to produce, whether it was overtly religious or not. I still believe and stand by that, but this passage both supports what I was saying yet provides a little balance to my screed.
"Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."
If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake—the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
Everything is permissible, but should we ask what is the value of it. Obviously Christians shouldn't make godly erotica, but I do believe that what we create should be "constructive". What does that entail? Well, I think each sincere Christian artist needs to come to their own conclusion about that. One suggestion I would have is: there should be an overall building up in what we do. There's a whole lot I could say on this, but that may be for another post.
Art has value in and of itself, and I want to see Christians produce the best music, the best fiction, the best of everything--because we have the great Creator as our inspiration, muse, and guide. However, we need to see if what we are doing is complying with this admonition from Paul: All should be done for the glory of God...For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they might be saved.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
This is the second of the Occupational Hazards series, following the kids from a homeschooled family who leave the family clown business when their parents died in a tragic hot-tubbing accident. This book focuses on Mackenzie "Mack" Hazard, a police officer from Las Vegas who had an appearance in the first book, Scoop.
She is chosen for a special undercover task force involving stolen vehicles, though this decision is questioned by the aging head of the task force, Ron Yeager.
His task is to train this rag-tag bunch of officers into a unit able to bring down this crime ring. He may have lots of experience, but nothing prepared him for Jesse, his hotshot maverick; Dozer, the loveable narcoleptic; Wiz, who likes to visit the bathroom; Mack, who wears her faith like "an ever-present badge"; and the mysterious Kyle. The stakes get higher as the team must learn to trust one another to even survive.
This sounds like your typical crime/suspense novel. It is, but then again it is anything but. Gutteridge is perhaps the funniest author currently writing Christian novels. The story moves along and draws you in, but it is the zany cast of characters and the zig-zag journey the author takes you on that makes this book sparkle. I have an hour bus commute to work one-way, and I had to stifle many laughs so I wouldn't draw the stares of my fellow passengers. The book was a great read - my only complaint is that I was drawn in so much that I am already finished! I'm not ready for it to be over. Gutteridge has an original voice and talent with keeping you guessing that you don't feel like you're reading - you feel like you're along for the ride of a real-life sitcom.
Basically, Rene is one of my favorite authors now, and her books are worthwhile for great humor and stellar writing. Be sure to check out both books from the series!
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
This week's CFBA featured tour is Snitch, book two of the Occupational Hazards series, by Rene Gutteridge. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors with her humorous, intelligent writing. There are lines from this book and the first in the series, Scoop, that still crack me up when I think of them! Scoop was my top book for 2006, so I was anticipating a great read with Snitch. I wasn't disappointed.
I'll post my review tomorrow. Rene was gracious enough to answer a few more questions for me (she also did an interview for the Scoop book tour). Without further ado, here's the author!
1. This has been a busy 12 months for you considering the release of Scoop, The Ultimate Gift and Snitch. How has it been keeping up with things?
This was definitely one of my busiest writing seasons. Three books in one year is challenging, but I'm proud of all the projects and I'm glad I was able to do them. However, after all that, it does take some time to decompress.
2. The police details in Snitch have authenticity to them, telling me you did your homework. How do you go about researching for a novel? What type of people do you interview?
I've done a tone of research for each of the Occupational Hazards books, more than any other books I've ever written. For Snitch, I flew out to Las Vegas and met with an undercover officer who was willing to take the time to give me a complete picture of what the life is like. I wanted insight into everything, and I wanted to depict it more like real life rather than television. Then of course I add my quirkiness to it, but that's a whole other story! I also flew to Atlanta to research Skid. I have several technical advisors for each of these projects. For Snitch, I interviewed undercover officers and patrol officers.
3. Can you describe your writing process (daily routine, revision, plotting, etc)?
I write about three hours a day, then do e-mails, interviews, etc. for the rest of the work day, so I spend about five hours a day total. If I'm plotting and forming a story from scratch, I rarely work out of my home office. I'll go to Starbucks or drive around the city or something. But if I'm writing, I usually always do it from my home office. I don't like typing on a laptop keyboard. I'm trying to get away from working on the weekends. Sometimes I just don't know how to stop working.
4. What is next for the Occupational Hazards series? How many books do you plan for this series?
Skid is the next one. So there are for sure going to be three. Beyond that I don't know. There is a potential for seven.
5. I'm reading a series of books (not yours!) that are getting a little stale (I'm on book 3 of 4). You've written both series and stand alone. In your opinion, which kind is harder to write? Any advice for avoiding that staleness?
Series are definitely harder for me. That's why I created The Occupational Hazards books the way I did, so each one stands alone and has its own cast. I really like writing stand alones more, but everyone loved the Boo characters so much, so we decided to stretch that into a series, and I'm glad we did. It really worked out well. Boo Humbug will be coming out this Fall.
6. What is your opinion on the state of Christian publishing currently?
I think we're in a really good season. A lot of exciting things are happening. I believe that we're going to have to make some hard choices, but I think the right people are in place to make those. The Christian novelists that are working today are very in tune with the critical issues, as are the publishing houses and the bookstores. So together, I believe we'll continue to go down a healthy, exciting and productive path.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
As part of the CSFF tour group, I am for anything that promotes quality fiction in these genres particularly. I see The Sword Review as a venue for helping develop writers, as well as providing enjoyable works.
There are a lot of features at this site. The main draw are the original stories and poetry, with occasional exposition and reviews of other materials of interest. The Sword Review does both online and print publishing for their works. The print version can be ordered from the main site.
Another great feature is the forums. I think it is always a good thing to foster community and build up the site through people who have an ownership in it. The forums promote discussion of the submissions as well as other topics of interest. Members can also produce their own blogs through the site. My pal Mir has her presence there.
One more item that I was impressed with was their interest in being a forum for student writers to showcase their works. Authors do get paid (not a lot, but hey, it's MONEY). They do state on their submissions guideline page that as of March 2007 they had a lot of fiction, but I'm sure if you have a stellar story they would take a hard look at it.
Overall, I am thrilled to find out about another resource for people who enjoy quality sci-fi and fiction. The Sword Review caters to this with a Christian perspective. Hey, what are you still doing here? Go check it out! And while you're at it, see what my tour mates below are saying.
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Kameron M. Franklin
Heather R. Hunt
Lost Genre Guild
Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Daniel I. Weaver
If you listen to either of these stations, consider supporting them with a gift or a pledge of monthly support. Here's for Air 1, here's for K-Love.
Funny story: my youngest's name is Caleb. When he was a baby we'd sometimes listen to K-Love in the car. My older boys thought it was cool that the radio was always singing to their younger brother...
Later today, I'll be posting for the CSFF tour, so check back!
Monday, May 21, 2007
Now, when 5 and 6 year olds play soccer, it isn't always the most beautiful game. Often it resembes a cloud of insects hovering over a flower, buzzing back and forth across the field. Sometimes the ball even squirts out and a goal is scored! Still, it is a great way to get the kids out and burning some energy, and enjoying time as a family.
If you've got young kids, I encourage you to check out AYSO, the American Youth Soccer Association. It is a great place for kids to get their start in a fun environment. If they are really into it, they can move into more competative leagues when they are older. However, AYSO is really good for the younger set that just want to play and have fun. I'll see you on the field!
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Secondly, I apologize in advance. I work in medicine, so I have a sick sense of humor and what is "cool".
But this is WAY COOL!
Ms. Malloy survived an "internal decapitation". Her skull slipped off her neck without any damage to skin or spinal cord. She said while they were trying to repair things, her head slipped off her neck about 5 times, and she had no control over her head.
Wow. How can I work that into a story?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Ann H. Gabhart has published a number of adult and young adult novels with several different publishers. The author of The Scent of Lilacs, Ann and her husband live a mile from where she was born in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. She is active in her country church, and her husband sings bass in a southern gospel quartet.
Nothing will be the same after the summer of 1964.Drought has gripped the quiet Kentucky town of Hollyhill, and the town seems as if it is holding its breath--waiting. Jocie Brooke is nervous about starting high school. Her sister Tabitha is experiencing the weariness of waiting for a new baby. Her father David is feeling the timidity of those first steps toward true love. All of these pivotal steps in life are awaiting the Brooke family.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Time to wrap up this topic before it becomes "Day 33". Helps me to have something to say each day, but I don't want to end up rambling either. Today is mainly scattershot, dealing with a few separate issues.
1. Looks like I was anticipating what CCM Magazine was doing. Now instead of CCM standing for "contemporary Christian music," it stands for "Christ. Community. Music." They will be discussing musicians who are Christians, not just ones that publish under "Christian" labels to Christian book stores. Here's CCM's announcement, and a response at a Christianity Today blog, as well as a listing of some of the musicians that don't fall under the CCM label.
2. Becky asked about false teaching. Good question! Next? (Just kidding)
Again I think it comes back to realizing that pop culture shouldn't be where we get our discipleship and daily bread. This issue can get very tricky because some groups consider speaking in tongues as "false teaching" whereas Pentecostals hold that dear as a Biblical teaching. I know she is referring to major issues like the person/deity of Jesus. I think that major Christian publications will probably catch a lot of these. A prominent preacher, Carlton Pearson, who had released gospel albums and had performed with Carmen, started teaching universal salvation. Quickly this was reported in Charisma magazine, and most national figures he associated with pulled away from him.
I think my point is that it is not up to us as consumers to be the Holy Spirit for the artists. There is a fine line on this issue, for sure. The review of The Light of Eidon mentioned on day 2 suggested there was an inappropriate bedroom scene and the book should be avoided. I argue that the scene was NOT inappropriate (the scene doesn't have anatomical references, and is the literary equivalent of 2 people kissing on scene while the camera fades) , but perhaps more than some people (mainly young kids) should read. I would like to see a reviewer say, "Hey, this book has [this], be careful" rather than the way it was handled in the above example. What if it was more explicit? It does get trickier there. I don't pretend to have all the answers in this case. I think we know when something is grossly wrong, but The DaVinci Code might prove me wrong. Of course, Dan Brown is not a Christian producing art, which is my premise...
3. There is a real movement to try and encourage excellence in Christian fiction and music. Why not? Should we do anything less than our best for our Lord?
There has been a stigma with these arenas that Christian fiction or music was synonymous with lesser quality - that the art was merely packaging for a sermon. There are a lot of conversations on the web regarding letting our creativity be for art's sake first of all. I've touched on that in this series, and just a few places that discuss this include Infuze, Faith in Fiction, and the Master's Artist, as well as many individual blogs. I love the conversations at these places, and want to see some tangible results from it all.
However, I have sensed a critical spirit creeping up as a reaction to the "lesser quality" charge. It is almost that, to get away from this label, we can't acknowledge or enjoy lesser works. In certain circles, it is almost a badge of shame to say you liked the Left Behind books. Were they high literature? No. Did I read some? Yes, until I grew tired of the formulaic delivery in each book. Should I be snooty over someone who read and enjoyed them? Hopefully those who read Left Behind have moved on to read more Christian fiction.
Is the quality label fair? I've seen plenty of bad books and music in the secular arena, yet Christians get unfairly stigmatized in my opinion. There used to be less choice in the CBA, but this has really begun to change over the last several years.
Mark Bertrand had a timely post called "Bring on Bad" where he admitted that bad books can be fun and serve a purpose, with a link to a Sunday Times article "Why Not the Worst?" (may require free registration) that also discusses the same topic. Now Mark is a paragon of good taste and a good voice for improving our craft, to aspire to the classics and not just good enough to get published. I don't want to tarnish his image here ;) . But it touched on this feeling of criticalness I've been feeling in some circles.
When I did 9 months of Bible school, one of the best things I did was to bring a few old Louis L'amour novels. I'd read them many times when young. After months of studying and living and breathing Biblical times, it was a real treasure to sit down with something unrelated, something I didn't have to really think about, and enjoy it. They followed the L'amour formula to a tee, but it was nice to have such a mental break.
I want to see Christians produce the highest quality fiction, music, paintings, films, or whatever medium they choose to create in, as we are motivated by the greatest Creator. But we don't have to get too uptight about it either.
Have I said enough now? I think so. Fire away with questions, comments, concerns, quibbles, or complaints.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Amy Wallace is a member of the CFBA and an avid Blogger. A self-confessed chocoholic, this freelance writer is a graduate of the Gwinnett County Citizens Police Academy and serves as the liaison for the training division of the county police department. Amy is a contributing author of God Answers Moms' Prayers, God Allows U-Turns for Teens, Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series: Diabetes, and A Cup of Comfort for Expectant Mothers. She lives in Georgia with her husband and three daughters.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Drama. Tragedy. Thriller. Romance. Can these four actually go together? Amy Wallace's meaty first book of the Defenders of Hope Series, RANSOMED DREAMS, has successfully united these genres.
It is one of those books that after you read a little and put it down, the desire to see what will happen next is so strong that it will occupy your thoughts, compelling you to make the time to finish. But watch out! It is best consumed where no one will hear you cry because, if you have children, it will hit you like a stab in the gut and wrench you with a twist of the knife.
Although the subject at first depresses, the characters are so real and likable that you need to see what will become of them.
This book will NOT bore you.
BACK COVER COPY:
Chained To Yesterday
When tragedy struck and Gracie Lang lost everything, her faith crumbled, and nothing but the drive for justice propelled her forward. But after two years of dead-end searching, the truth Gracie seeks is the very thing her stalker will stop at nothing to hide.
Forgiveness Unlocks the Future
An FBI agent in the Crimes Against Children Unit, Steven Kessler spends his days rescuing other people’s children and nights caring for his son. He’s through with God, embittered by his ex-wife who abandoned them both, and definitely doesn’t expect what’s coming next.
The Past Is the Key
A plot to kidnap a British ambassador’s daughter dangerously intersects Steven and Gracie’s worlds–a collision that demands a decision. But are they willing to pay the high ransom required to redeem dreams and reignite hope?
ENDORSEMENTS:Steeped in police intrigue and rich characters, Ransomed Dreams entertains, educates, and captivates. Amy Wallace is a fresh, vibrant voice in the Christian market
~Mark Mynheir, Homicide Detective and Author of The Void
Ransomed Dreams had me hooked from the start and didn't let go until the deeply satisfying ending.~Kristin Billerbeck, Author of What a Girl Wants
Friday, May 11, 2007
I ended the last day with the point "Give [the artist] the freedom to make the [art] they want, whether their main motivation is creative or spiritual." My theme was the idea of letting the artist proceed with the major motivation that is driving them. If a band's goal is to make a worship album, then I would want them to make the best worship album they can. If they are writing about some of the hard questions in life, then make it to the glory of God, even if it doesn't answer the questions in 2 verses, a bridge, and the chorus.
The church has always struggled with a balance of the sacred and the worldly in art. How long were artists not allowed to draw the human body or other aspects of creation so as to "not have any idols"? Then again, how many artists had God as their motivation to make some of the greatest works of art in Western civilization?
Today Christians struggle with the idea that if they don't try to use art as a vehicle for the gospel, then they are not truly "using their gifts for God." I don't think I agree with that. I did a little series back in September on Art and the Bible. In that I discussed how esteemed Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer didn't believe it either. If you create art with the only idea of carrying a message, he said it is little more than a tract. However, he felt a body of work would reveal a person's worldview.
Again, Becky had a pertinent comment:
The pastor (Allistair Begg) described two errors--one being Christians who isolate from the culture to cling to the truth and the other those who participate in the culture at the price of truth. In the first instance, he said, the Christians have the truth but no one to share it with. In the second, they have lots of people, but have lost the truth to give them.
This is true, but I would hope that any Christian worth his salt (pun intented) would find a way to speak of Jesus, whether through their lives or their art. I know that I could not write without at some point speaking of my faith. However, I am not prepared to make that the defining principle for anyone else.
Again, I use the example (again, which is extreme) of Britney Spears. In her early days she tried to say that her faith could co-exist with her sexual persona. Unfortunately we have seen how that has played out. I don't pretend to know what the eternal state of her soul is, but it is obvious by the fruit that she is having problems. A different artist is Carrie Underwood. She sings standard country music songs about cheatin' and lyin', but her biggest hit is still "Jesus Take the Wheel". Also, even though I am not a country music fan, she does not seem to be cancelling out her witness by having public problems like Ms. Spears.
Am I beating a dead horse yet, or is this making sense? I guess my overall admonition would be that, in the field of pop culture, we (as a consuming audience) need to let Christian artists follow their call as best they are able, and give them grace if they do something artistically that doesn't follow with our "preferred career course" for them. If Third Day wants to make a kicking rock album because they feel the freedom to, then by all means! If Ted Dekker writes a stunning novel that doesn't spell out the gospel by page 300, because he has an artistic vision of what he is trying to accomplish, then kudos for him. If you don't like it, leave it, don't stumble over it, and see if you can pick up with them later. Michael W. Smith followed Amy Grant's example in the early 90's of writing wholesome love and pop songs, and had some mainstream success. However, that phase of his career has passed, and now he is writing the most worshipful music I've seen from him. This proves my point - over his storied career he probably has lost people on the way, only to pick them up later. If not, then he picks up new ones.
I don't think I've exhausted this topic, but I believe I'm about done for the time being. Tomorrow I just want to wrap up some loose ends dealing with the question of "false teaching" and quality vs. the joy of bad books!
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Ahem. I guess it is time to put up or shut up. I promised yesterday that I had my major point to make today. We have this Christian Marketplace. This is where I spend a lot of my time. Yesterday I gave some suggestions to help people maneuver and work in our little ghetto, but today my main point would be...
Allow me to make a declaration. This is for all Christian artists, or artists who are Christians. This is for all those who partake of the fruits of this marketplace.
Let the artist, whether author or musician, follow the Lord as they understand best, creating the best art they can. Let those who read or listen to music use their own taste and discernment to find what they enjoy, and leave what they don't like.
Becky had this comment yesterday:
I think, in each case, what Christian art should do is point to Christ--in some way. Might be in creating a curiosity or a thirst or stimulating thought or bringing confirmation or opening up a dialogue or, yes, showing an example (a la much traditional CBA fiction).
Of course, that comes back to, who are we writing for?
See, my thinking is, I write for Christians who then can influence those in their circle who are not Christians. Maybe they can even influence them by giving them a piece of well-written fiction.
(Thanks for the great set-up!) Who exactly are we writing or playing for? That is up for the artist to decide. Once they do, give them the freedom to walk in that.
We need to realize that Ted Dekker needs to be allowed to write what he feels led to write. That will be different from Lori Wick to Karen Hancock to Chris Well. We need to allow Switchfoot to play songs that sound and speak differently than Chris Tomlin.
I love worship music, and enjoy a lot of the music that is produced in CCM right now. But I enjoy listening to the clever lyrics of Relient K, the searching words of Switchfoot, or even the rock of King's X.
Becky mentioned Christian art pointing to Christ. I would agree to this statement. I would just say that it does not have to be blatant. I love the King's X album Faith, Hope, Love. There are 3 songs there that are so amazing. "Everywhere I Go" is one of the best rock songs that deals with Jesus that I have ever heard. Yet His name is not mentioned. "Mr. Wilson" and "Legal Kill" are two songs that relate the horror of abortion. The songs are not preachy, but very beautiful artistically. The rest of the album is great, but not everything has to follow a formula.
Remember this whole (long) rant came from an Amazon review that criticized a book, not for its artistic merits, but its perceived spiritual shortcomings and ended with a personal admonition for the author to reexamine her Christian walk!
Some authors will feel like their audience is to Christians, to encourage them, like Becky said. Others may want to write the best crime novel they can, not targeting a particular audience. A song or album for a band may be produced to reach a wider audience, because that is what they were LED to do.
I remember that the band Third Day was criticized for their album Wire, since it wasn't explicitly Jesus oriented. People said they were selling out for cross-over success. Recall that their previous albums were the ver popular Offerings I and II, very God-oriented praise and worship products. Only in Christian music would the fans complain like this. Give Third Day the freedom to make the album they want, whether their main motivation is creative or spiritual.
Ah, I see that I have come to another fork in the road - another point to make tomorrow. Not quite done yet folks (when will he ever give it a rest?)
The first rule of the game, however, is to post the rules of the game. Here they are:
- Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
- People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
- At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
- Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
1. I hate tomatoes, but I'll eat spaghetti sauce, salsa, etc.
2. I've snow skied in July. You'll have to ask to find out more.
4. Our cat is named Obi-Wan. Actually, my wife named him, not me. She asked our oldest what we should name the cat. Oldest (who was three) replied "big Star Wars toy". I think her compromise worked (although he should've been named Darth Maul).
5. I did Youth With a Mission's 9 month Bible program called the School of Biblical Studies. We read the Bible 5 times in those 9 months.
6. I've been on four different continents.
7. I saw The Little Mermaid in theatres about 6 times. Yikes!
8. I almost fell out of the back of a truck while in Thailand. There was no way that I should've been able to avoid falling, unless an angel caught me.
That's all I can think of. Now the hard part - finding eight people to tag! (Sorry folks, I don't intend on making this a habit.) How about Mir, Solshine7, William G. Jones, Chris Well, Matt (your public needs this!), Bob, the Cubicle Reverand, and we'll see if we can get the esteemed John C. Wright to participate!
Monday, May 07, 2007
I think that I have set up the context of the Christian Marketplace (in regards to American culture at least). To sum up the 3 prior posts, you can say that this arena is plagued with a narrow interpretation of how it can operate. Christian musicians are chastised for sing a love song (that doesn't have lyrics that can also be sung as if "Jesus is my boyfriend"). If they don't have enough of a Jesus quotient in their songs, they are called "sellouts" who are trying for success in the "secular" music arena. Authors in the CBA have to walk a fine line theologically in how they represent real life, lest they be accused of supporting sin.
This is a deep topic that can require a lot to fully discuss it - blog posts can't adequately cover all the issues. Let me say that I don't want truly immoral art given a pass with the "Christian" label, whether to the artist or the art. Early in her career, Britney Spears maintained she was a Baptist and pledged to stay a virgin until marriage, while never following through. This is an extreme example of course. But where can we go with this issue of a Christian pop culture ghetto?
1. Don't put artists on pedestals. These musicians and authors are not theologians. I don't want to see wrong teaching promulgated any more than someone else, but their craft is for entertainment, encouragement, and emulating the Creator - not a expository sermon. The artist has a responsibility to do well with their craft (which should include accuracy), but don't expect to be fully fed through pop culture, even Christianized culture. Reading good books and listening to positive music is a blessing, but we grow in our walk while dealing directly with our God, not while spinning the latest from Newsboys while reading Ted Dekker (or Karen Kingsbury, whatever your flavor!) Hey, I have been incredibly blessed when reading a novel that deals with themes that resonate with what God is speaking to me in my devotional life. God can even use these works to speak to you, but it shouldn't be the norm, in my opinion.
2. Along with that: give grace. They are responsible for their Christian walk, not Joe Q. Christian who leaves a review on Amazon criticizing someone's faith. Romans 14 deals with the tricky situation of dealing with differences in spiritual maturity. I won't try to push The Light of Eidon or Germ on someone who is very careful about violence, as I don't want to cause them a problem. Yet there needs to be understanding that is reciprocated to those who feel these books are appropriate for them.
3. The Christian Marketplace is undergoing transition. There is a discussion of the emerging church going on right now. This is a loaded term, but it can be applicable to what is happening to Christians in culture right now. The experiment of Christians circling the wagons to provide their own entertainment and therefore avoiding contamination with "the world" is undergoing change. This phenomenon is worth several days of its own focus, but I'll just touch on it here.
There are a lot of Christian artists who are getting noticed outside the CCM world. I hear their songs on soundtracks of shows like Smallville. They may turn up on non-Christian format stations. Switchfoot started as a "Christian band", but has crossed over to be a successful mainstream artist. I still see a Christian worldview in all of their music, even if it is not explicit. Bands like The Fray played to mainstream radio, but was picked up by Christian formats such as Air 1 due to their positive, faith-infused lyrics.
Christian fiction used to be relegated to prarie romances with a predictable formula: 1. main character is not a Christian or fallen away, 2. said person goes through trials related to their lack of faith, 3. the person has a conversion experience and all is well in the world. A stereotype, I know. Currently there are authors who are trying to write compelling stories where faith is a natural outgrowth of the plot and circumstances, not forcing a plot to fit a formula.
Hey, I love when someone finds the glorious freedom of the children of God, whether in real life or even as a story. The problem is that we live in a fallen world, and not everything turns out the way we want. There are novels being written that explore all aspects of life from a viewpoint of faith - just that not every story will end with the predicted ending. I remember being shocked when something very bad happened to the female protaganist in The Oath. She didn't have a happy ending. But it fit the theme of the story, and the very Christian ideals in the book were served by his artistic choice. Plus, it made for a great twist, because I didn't think he would go there.
4. I think this is the key point...but I'm writing a huge post, so I'll save it for tomorrow!
I got to see it Saturday night, and it was a very enjoyable movie from the "popcorn" perspective. Tobey Maguire gets to flaunt his stuff in some different ways, and the action and grapics are top notch. The story had a few wobbles in places, but overall I am not going to complain.
For the purpose of this post, I want to focus on the spiritual aspect. It has been noted elsewhere how each of the movies have delved into various religious motifs. S3 holds nothing back in dealing with the inner life and how we can be destroyed, not from the bad guys out there, but from our own evil impulses.
Spiderman is faced with the double barrel of pride and anger. The city is finally embracing him, and there is concern that he is getting a little big for his spandex. Then he finds that his uncle was killed by a different man than was thought, and Peter becomes fixated on revenge.
The famous black suit makes its appearance as an outward manifestation of Peter's internal turmoil, giving him increased power at the cost of hightening his aggression. After some disasterous behavior, he realizes (while perched on a church) that he must let go of his anger and the alien symbiote that feeds off it.
Finally, Peter is confronted with his past, and he realizes his greatest power comes in forgiveness. The effect of what it does, not only for Spiderman but for the recipient, is nothing short of remarkable.
I have always loved superheroes - their powers and adventures a haven for my fertile imagination. However, we have access to the greatest power of all, and I think the lesson of forgiveness (and the battle within) will have a lingering effect long after the cobwebs are gone.
For more on this topic, Infuze has posted a Bible study based off of S3 that can be downloaded via a PDF file.
Friday, May 04, 2007
In her interview at Infuze Magazine, she discussed writing straight ahead love songs, without mention of God.
But being attracted to someone and being wooed by someone and being affected by someone - those are so purposefully from the Lord to echo what He has for us. So I don't think there's anything wrong with enjoying a shadow of things, of the original. That makes me love the original better. So writing love songs and all those things, I put those on the record for that reason to give us a picture of what He's doing. I think that's an important thing to look at.
The controversy of a CCM artist discussing "wordly" subjects like love and relationships has been a problem in Christian music for a while. I remember the early 90's, where there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth with Amy Grant's album Heart in Motion, which only had one song directly dealing with God, and most songs being nice pop love songs. After this Charlie Peacock released his album Love Life, which dealt with love both horizontal and vertical. He had a wonderful song called "Kiss Me Like a Woman", with the provocative line "We can lie naked and unashamed/ Made one by divine connection" in describing the relationship between a husband and wife in a Christian context. I remember an interview he gave where he said he wanted his son's idea of a love song to be "Kiss Me Like a Woman", rather than "I Want to Sex You Up" by the group Color Me Badd (think Justin Timberlake nowadays).
I think it is getting better in the CCM realm. There are bands like Switchfoot, Relient K, and others that write about a variety of topics without having a "Jesus loves you" chorus in every song - although it is still remarkable enough for Variety Magazine to write about it (see this interesting article! - hat tip to Thunderstruck)
My pondering in all of this is: what is a Christian artist to do? In exploring the problem, is there a place to go with all of this?
There is a purpose to this discussion - I promise. I am coming to a head, most likely on Monday (ignoring the groans of everyone who just CAN'T wait :P). In the meantime, check out this little Mac vs PC parody.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Today's book featured in the CFBA is one such book. Tribulation House, the third book by novelist and magazine editor (and all around busy guy) Chris Well. I had an interview with him that I posted here. Today I want to review TH.
Here's the back cover blurb:
IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD—WHICH COULD BE A PROBLEM...
Mark Hogan has it all. The job. The family. A position on the board at church. All he’s missing is a boat. Not just any boat—a 2008 Bayliner 192.
When Reverend Daniel Glory announces that the Rapture is taking
place on October 17 at 5:51 am, Hogan realizes his boat–buying days are numbered. So he does what any man in his situation would do—he borrows a load of money from the mob. Not that there’s any risk involved: After all, when the Rapture comes, Hogan will be long gone. The mob will never find him. But when Jesus fails to come back on schedule, Mark Hogan finds the mob is in no mood to discuss the finer points of end–times theology...
You're smiling already, right?
Honestly, this could be a real one-note story that falls flat. Thankfully, Chris is a talented writer who keeps things moving by incorporating the story into the world of the Kansas City mob and the law enforcement trying to take them down - the world that was the setting for his previous two novels, Forgiving Solomon Long and Deliver Us from Evelyn. We get to follow along with lovable, comic book geek detective Charlie Pasch as he finds his groove. Detective Tom Griggs has some confrontation to do and a major surprise. Other new characters are brought in to fill out this tale, all connected to our Rapture-watching protaganist in various ways.
This is Well's most blatantly Christian novel, and pokes some good natured fun at those who stand around watching the sky for Jesus' return a little too much, while giving us a nudge in the right direction. Humor is hard to pull off, but he does it with just the right touch of speaking to serious issues as well.
One of his strengths is his unique characterizations. He seems to be trying to restrain himself as far as number of characters, but still does a great job of making each distinctive. For the most part he makes the mobsters believable creatures without making them vulgar (although one gangster calling another "dum-dum" didn't ring true). The main character gets so self-focused you want to smack him, but that is probably how he should be treated!
The ending will leave you wanting more, I can promise you that! (Grrr...) Again, Chris has a quick pace that carries you through the book, an enjoyable read that tickles your funny bone and pricks your conscience.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
During the last fantasy blog tour, I came across this review of The Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock. Here's a snippet:
It was a little hard to follow, but had a decent plot and likeable characters. About halfway through, my opinion of this book steeply declined. The reason? A bedroom scene. Ms. Hancock aptly incorporates a highly descriptive scene where the main character sleeps (and does a few other things!) with the girl he likes. I'm usually not one to be revolted by mild sensuality; the only other book I've stopped reading because of the sex was a Robert Ludlum novel. This, however, was just too much. I would expect this from a secular novel, but it was disappointing in a book that billed itself as "Christian."
First of all, the reviewer is wrong, or at best misleading. The scene was written in such a way that the reader knew what the character was dealing with, without crossing into unneeded voyeurism.
However, this example highlights a problem with the Christian marketplace - the reviewer felt a need to make a judgment on an artistic work based off of spiritual standards. Actually, that's something we all do to a degree: do we accept the worldview and particulars presented to us in entertainment? Many Christians like the movie Braveheart due to the ideas of sacrifice and freedom, but some couldn't (legitimately) get past the nudity or violence.
But Christian artists live under a pressure to create with expectations. I don't mind that this reviewer felt the scene in Eidon was too much for her sensibilities. I don't think it was even wrong to put a review saying, "Hey, y'all might want to watch out for [x] or [y]." I get disconcerted when she challenges an author's walk with God and quotes Philippians 4:8 as a condemnation for those who might actually read (uh-oh) and enjoy (gasp!) this book.
Don't get me wrong. We need to judge what we can handle or not handle. And we shouldn't end up with reading Christian "porn" or erotica. But can you see the dilemma for the Christian artist? You may write a scene that you think is needed for the artistic integrity of the story, and that you've done it in a creative way that is within reason. All it takes is one offended individual to post something on Amazon, and you lose potential readers.
This problem doesn't just exist for Christian fiction. Infuze has an interview with 18 year old singer/songwriter Bethany Dillon. I really haven't listened to her, but have heard good reviews about her work. In the interview she has to defend herself from writing love songs!
I'm very much a girl and feel that the feminine soul is made to be completely distracted by a story like that. I mean, probably the masculine soul as well, but seeing as how I only have my experience... [Laughs] But I think that you're so right. There are things - not as an accusation - but I think the American church especially seeks to control and pacify so many things that it shuts down anything that could be slightly messy or that could have a couple mistakes. We have an obsession with very controllable things.
Where do we go from here? I'll take this up soon (either before or after a review of Chris Well's new book).
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
1. You write "laugh-out loud crime thrillers" with gangsters and some rougher elements. How do you deal with the CBA market informal guidelines and realistically portraying these characters? Any problems with dealing with the issue of hardened criminals and the use of cursing?
Frankly, I don't *want* to write novels that are vulgar: There is enough ugliness in the world without my *adding* to it. Yes, my stories do involve a lot of broken people making a lot of bad choices (and doing a lot of bad things), but a creative writer should be able to leave something to the imagination of the reader.
2. TH is your 3rd book. Was it harder to write your first novel, or iskeeping up with deadlines with your full-time work more challenging?
Each novel is a new journey of discovery for me -- so while some elements of the process are getting easier, each time out I am still trying to stretch for something new. If I'm not flying without a net, I am certainly playing close to the edge of the net. As such, I hope each novel is a better read -- and I hope I never become so complacent that I stop pushing to that "next place." And, yes, it is tough doing all this with a day job. But I like what I do, so that is not going to change anytime soon. (Plug: Sign up at http://www.myccm.org!/)
3. What process do you use to keep a handle on your characters and their always interesting quirks?
With these Harvest House books, I got locked into an "ensemble" format, the hardest part of which is coordinating all the different crazy people doing all the separate stories (that still have to criss-cross throughout the novel).
So ... it usually means I have to stop every 1/3 of the way or so and re-read everything before I go on. And do a lot of revising as I go. And then eventually make some sort of chart or graph or timeline, and then I write all these bullet points down on index cards ...
Let's just say that at some crucial juncture with all three --FORGIVING SOLOMON LONG, DELIVER US FROM EVELYN, and TRIBULATION HOUSE-- there was finally a point where I literally sat down with scissors and a printout and cut up all the different scenes and made everything fit in the right order. So I think you can understand why the projects I'm working on right now are limited to the single-person perspective. (And they are going WAY faster!)
4. What is your favorite comic book story arc? What is Charlie's?
Wow. Um, off the top of my head: "Unthinkable," FANTASTIC FOUR Vol. 3, #67-71 (2003), by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. Plus KINGDOM COME, ASTONISHING X-MEN, WATCHMEN, COMMON GROUNDS, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, BATMAN: STRANGE APPARITIONS, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST ...
I like a lot of comics. (And so does Charlie.)