Friday, February 27, 2009
The book is the start of a three book trilogy set in Defiance, Texas in 1977. Fourteen year old Jed Pepper is best friends with a vivacious young girl, Daisy Marie Chance. When she goes missing one summer night, he is convinced that it is his fault. He deals with his thoughts tormenting him on what he could have done differently, even as he battles personal demons that threaten his own family.
The book is labeled a "coming-of-age" story, and that description works for Daisy Chain. It has an authentic feel of a small Texas town. The reader feels the hot, sticky heat, can almost taste Hixon Jones' fresh lemonade, and lives the trials that Jed wrestles with throughout the book.
The book is deeper, with more to the story than a little synopsis like the one above can provide. I also don't like giving away too much of a story in a review. The book raises some challenges to the reader regarding family secrets and small town life. Just when you are convinced who the "villain" of the story is, Mary takes that character and shows a human side to them.
Sometimes the book was a little frustrating, because there are different plot threads that are introduced at various points of the book, and I didn't feel enough resolution at the end of the book. I understand that it is a trilogy, and some threads are being introduced to carry through the whole project, but to me there should have been a little more closure, or some points perhaps introduced in book 2 rather than here. I came away a little disappointed in the way the book ended. I had too much emotional investment to be satisfied. I know a good suspense series should leave one hanging, waiting for the next book, but I didn't feel a good enough set-up for book 2. The ending came rather abruptly, I guess.
I think Mary has created some very interesting characters, with flaws and a definite unique touch to each of them. No one is the stereotype here. Sometimes the viewpoint gets a little confusing, but otherwise I enjoyed most of the people we meet in Defiance (except for the ones you root against-you'll see soon enough).
Daisy Chain is not the typical book I would pick up at the bookstore. It is not my favorite book, but Mary DeMuth is a talented author, and I enjoyed much of her writing. If you like the psychological drama or a Southern-tinged coming of age story, then this should be a book that is well worth your time.
If you would like to read the first chapter of Daisy Chain, go HERE
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Blog posts looked at the "Christian" aspect of these books, and asked about the process an author comes up with themes for their work.
Steve Rice had some strong opinions of the books. If I understood him correctly, he felt that a Christian artist ought to visibly show their faith in their works. He quoted a few verses about a light not being put under a basket and speaking from the heart (that if Christ is in your heart, how can we not help but speak of what is there).
He also brought up secularism, implying that Cyndere's Midnight was secular because possible themes or morals gleaned from the book weren't specifically Christian enough, undistinguishable from good messages from non-Christian books. I'm not quite sure how "secular" is the right term to use here.
Steve had passionate views, and I'm not trying to put him down, just to put out a point of disagreement. We may chalk this up to an "agree to disagree" type of issue. I have long felt and advocated on this blog that God is interested in beauty for beauty's sake, and not everything created in His name has to have a specific religious or practical function. I've gone to Francis Schaeffer's book Art and the Bible on this point a lot. One of his examples is a free-standing column in Solomon's temple that had no functional purpose from an engineering or spiritual standpoint, other than to add architectural beauty to the temple.
I don't think from the books themselves or Jeffrey's words about them that he is trying to hide any message. I think he is trying to write to a standard that he has set for himself regarding beauty of language and power of story. He has themes he sees, but he is reluctant to blurt them out and color what readers will take from the book. I certainly see Christian truths in his books, but it seems he's trying to let the reader decide what themes they see. What I do have a problem with is people judging motives without fully understanding what the artist is doing.
Also, what about Biblical books like Song of Songs and Esther. The Lord isn't mentioned in either of them, but we know the inspiration that comes from these books. The inspiration is derived from the interpretation of the books, even when it is not directly spelled out in the text.
I wish that Steve had taken more information from the fine interviews with Jeffrey. Robert Treskillard has a fine interview with the author, doing a discussion style back and forth. Then Shane Deal follows with a separate interview that further explores Jeffrey's style of writing and his purpose in his work. Make sure to read down to an extensive discourse in the comments, as there are points no one should miss.
The next point of discussion comes from my friend Becky Miller, in her discussion based off of Steve Rice's post from above. Becky and I have had a friendly disagreement on the nature of Christian art ;), and she talks about the intentionality of theme. Now, I agree with her that if there is a specific theme an author wants to communicate, and they do so skillfully, that it doesn't lessen the artistic value at all. In fact, I happen to believe that theme is very important to the structure of a novel. Otherwise the work is not going to have any strength to impact a reader. She mentions "backing into a theme," where Jeffrey talks about writing and letting the theme come to him rather than knowing it beforehand. I don't think I could fully do that (the control freak in me, I suppose), but I believe, if nothing else, from Jeffrey's experience, that it can happen.
My question is: if a Christian author writes a book that doesn't have explicitly gospel-specific themes, is that work "Christian fiction?" I see reflections of the "One True Myth," as C.S. Lewis termed the gospel, in Cyndere's Midnight? But I can't point to a specific Christ-figure or other allegorical character in the book. If the criteria to be called Christian fiction is to have a specific gospel feature, directly showing God, then I suppose Cyndere won't meet that criteria. I think Jeffrey's two books could have published by secular houses without changing the content, but I have to believe that he is trying to accomplish something in the market he's currently in.
I wrote a short story that doesn't directly deal with God, just in passing. Yet the themes of sanctity of life and fidelity in marriage are the points that make the story, IMO. The sanctity of life theme was what I had in mind when I started, but the marriage theme surprised me in many ways. Both points are informed and hopefully reflect a Biblical worldview, but the story wasn't the place to bring out all aspects of the Biblical narrative.
All art communicates something. Fiction is by nature more direct than other forms, such as visual arts. An artist fools themseleves if they think it won't communicate something. Sometimes an artist may choose a specific theme to explore up front, while others may see what emerges in the process. Both are valid starting points, and I maintain that a Christian artist, no matter their starting point, will reflect a Biblical worldview if they are truly transformed by their walk.
Becky has another post titled, Fiction Is... I had to laugh at her last comment this morning, because even though we've playfully seemed to disagree, she had this to say:
What I would like to see Christians come to is the idea that fiction can actually say something important. Does that have to be the plan of salvation? No. Does it need to be laid out overtly? No.
There is a third way, an artistic way of weaving in a theme so that readers “get it” without being told it.
And with this, we're in total agreement!
If you're interested in this discussion of Art, Creativity, and how it plays out in Christian expression, I invite you to check out these different posts and perspectives. It has been a highly intriguing discussion!
Monday, February 23, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
A Tale of Nobility and Savagery
This is the 3rd day of the CSFF tour for Cyndere's Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet. See Monday for my overview of it and the first book in the series, Auralia's Colors, and yesterday for an interview with Jeffrey.
Cyndere’s Midnight is a swirling tale of noble and base elements, of a kingdom trying to find something they lost, and another kingdom in danger of losing what they have, and individual choices to embrace light over darkness.
If you picked up Cyndere without reading Auralia, you would understand the plot for the most part. As with most sequels, it is a deeper experience if you read the whole series. Jeffrey planted seeds for Cyndere in the first one, so there are nice connections to be made.
Jeffrey mentioned in his interview that he is trying to write a beautiful story with language that will stand the test of time. I don’t know if will rise to such a lofty standard, but it is not typical fantasy fare, or Christian fare for that matter. He takes great care in describing the details of the Expanse. His prose continues to be quite poetic, though I felt it wasn’t quite as poetic as Auralia. The subject matter could definitely be part of that, as the character Auralia was the center of the poetry last time. He doesn’t repeat words or phrases repetitively. It is apparent he is using language precisely.
The story is sweeping in its scope, and he keeps the suspense moving along. The confused beastman Jordam becomes the heart of the book as he struggles with the curse on his people. They are driven to drink a substance called Essence for their strength, but could it be corrupting them? Jordam sees hints of something greater in the colors Auralia has created, and a new nobility rises in him as he stumbles into Cyndere’s path.
Other characters are carefully constructed and there are only a couple of very minor characters that seem like throw-away “placeholder” characters. The contrasts in character development is very intriguing.
I really enjoyed Cyndere’s Midnight. In some ways I enjoyed it more than Auralia’s Colors, but other ways I didn’t. Both books are poetic, but I think the language in the first book was a little more lyrical. However, I connected more with Jordam than I did anyone in the first book.
Jeffrey’s writing is dense, and it won’t stand for a quick perusal of a page. You are forced to take it in and chew on it a little. This is mostly very good, but on occasion there are points where a reader can get confused. Also, there were many characters and sub-plots going on, so there were some times when I lost track of what was happening with them.
I mentioned with my review of Auralia’s Colors that I believed it to be a very important book for Christian fiction. Cyndere’s Midnight continues that legacy. In his interview yesterday, Jeffrey said,
Unfortunately, very little that is published in the CBA market stands up to that kind of test. "Christian fiction" is usually notable because of the "message." It is very rarely written with the kind of artistry that will stand up to critique. I don't want to write stuff that will only be read by people who believe what I believe. I want it to be read by people who love imaginative storytelling... and I want them to still be reading it a hundred years from now.His answers inspired me to take a second look on what I’m writing and how I do it. I think he is taking a bold step, writing a different kind of book that can’t be categorized within the bounds of CBA fiction. I applaud him for setting a lofty goal for himself in his own creativity. I don’t think he fully realizes the potential, as I think the plot can be clarified a little more, but it is clearly an artistic work that is unique among other fantasy books.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Hey! Day 2 of our CSFF tour featuring Jeffrey Overstreet and his new book, Cyndere's Midnight. I gave an introduction to the book yesterday, and listed multiple links to check out if you're curious about the unique approach Jeffrey has when it comes to his writing: other's in the tour, reviews of his previous book, Auralia's Colors, and links to Jeffrey's websites.
Jeffrey was gracious enough to answer a few questions I had, so please check out his replies below. Tomorrow I'll wrap up with my review of Cyndere's Midnight.
1. What are your writing influences?
It's tough for me to point to influences. I imagine readers will have a better sense of that than me. But I can tell you who I found inspirational while I was writing.
Annie Dillard writes about the natural world with passion, honesty, and stirring prose. Her attention to the wonders and horrors of our fantastic, fallen world are compelling, awe-inspiring, and sometimes truly disturbing.
I read a lot of poetry while I work on The Auralia Thread. I'm especially fond of Scott Cairns, Jane Hirshfield, and my wife Anne's poetry, which takes me to so many vivid places. Anne and I spend a lot of time exploring the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest and in the Southwest, and I'm sure that the places we go inspire my writing more than any writers do.
I don't think many fiction writers have had much influence on The Auralia Thread. I'm sure there are echoes of Tolkien, Lewis, Macdonald, and especially Richard Adams and Frank Herbert. But when it comes to style, I often revisit Patricia McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast series for the music of their language and the phantasmagoric detail of their worlds.
2. What was your inspiration for the Auralia's Colors series?
My wife Anne and I had a conversation about make-believe while we were hiking near Flathead Lake, Montana. Anne said something about how most people reach a certain age where they stop using their imaginations, stop expressing themselves creatively, and put make believe behind them. I started thinking about that while we walked through this beautiful, forested landscape.
I began to imagine a kingdom in which the people bury all of their creative expressions. And then I envisioned an artist who wandered into that culture, and who was both celebrated and persecuted for her vision. That's where it all started.
3. You are known for your work in film critique. How did your film influence affect your writing?
Film reviewing has taught me to pay attention to small details, and to cherish those experiences in which characters take you into places and situations you've never thought about before.
It has also taught me to think about beauty, and how a picture can say so much more than a lesson or an allegory. So I focus on painting pictures in prose, trying to share images instead of morals, questions instead of answers.
The movies that stick with me are those that don't preach, but instead offer me encounters with beauty and imagery that give me new insights every time I enjoy them.
I want to write a story that does that. I don't want to tell readers what to think--I want to invite them on an adventure, and let them have their own unique experience, develop their own interpretation along the way.
4. What is your opinion about the state of Christian fiction in the CBA world and culture in general?
I don't have much time to read, so when I do, I read a lot of poetry and literature that has proven itself to be timeless and beautiful.
Unfortunately, very little that is published in the CBA market stands up to that kind of test. "Christian fiction" is usually notable because of the "message." It is very rarely written with the kind of artistry that will stand up to critique. I don't want to write stuff that will only be read by people who believe what I believe. I want it to be read by people who love imaginative storytelling... and I want them to still be reading it a hundred years from now. That's why Tolkien, Lewis, and L'Engle's books are standing the test of time. They're imaginative, rich with truth, and beautiful.
I don't read stories because I want a message. I read because I want to have an experience. I want to use my imagination. I only get the chance to read a limited number of books in my life, and I want to read the most beautiful, rich, meaningful stuff I can find. I firmly believe that that how we say something is just as important as what we say. Christian bookstores are full of books that say good things. But many of those books say good things very poorly, or without much imagination.
If a book is well-written, many readers all over the world -- Christian and non-Christian alike -- will find that book compelling. That's why most "Christian books" are only ever read by people who shop in Christian bookstores.
5. What would you like people to know about your two current books that they may not know already?
I hope that readers will open the pages of Auralia's Colors and Cyndere's Midnight out of curiosity and a desire for an adventure.
If they come expecting an allegory, I think they'll be frustrated. A lot of reviewers have said that this is a story about Christ, or the Christian life. Fine... there's nothing wrong with that interpretation. But that's not what I was thinking about when I wrote them. You might just as well read tehm as a story about an artist's struggles and temptations, or a story about talents and gifts, or a story about beauty and what it does to us. Readers have discovered themes that have pleasantly surprised me. But I know where this story is going, and it doesn't work as an allegory.
I'm very interested in hearing what readers think the story is about. Fantasy is a mysterious genre. We learn about each other when we share our experience of a work of art. I never want to write a story that has an obvious "moral" or "lesson." Why bother? If I wanted to do that, I would just teach lessons and not bother with a story. No, I want to tell stories the way Jesus shared parables -- I want to tell a story that teases readers' minds into contemplation, that gets them arguing about what it all means. I know what they mean to me, but that keeps changing. What do they mean to you?
Monday, February 16, 2009
In the first book of the series, Auralia's Colors, we are introduced to the world of the Expanse, home of four great Houses. The House Abascar in the East is where a mysterious young girl is found as a baby. As Abascar grows cold and bleak, this girl breaks forth with a gift of colors that enchant and enrage. Events involving the royal family, poor servants, exiled criminals, and this young Auralia swirl together until the House is brought low, and the remnant must flee to the cliffs farther south.
The second book takes us to the western House Bel Amica, where a lonely heiress contemplates life without her consort and the pressures of being the sole heir of their throne. She shared visions with her love of helping the beastmen of Cent Regus, a once magnificent house in the South that has fallen into a literal corruption, with the people being transformed by a strange Essence into the form of animals, with the mind of savages as well.
Four brothers of the beastmen are led by their oldest brother toward a plot involving the weakened refugees of Abascar. However, one of the brothers, Jordam, has developed a new awareness by his exposure to Auralia's colors, and he begins to question his purpose and direction.
Passions, power, and politics threaten to engulf the Expanse as two solitary figures collide at a well, painted blue by an orphan girl, unaware of their place in the coming conflagration.
I am excited for this tour for several reasons. First, I've finally managed to read one of the books (missed out on the last few offerings). Second, I was highly impressed with Auralia's Colors, and was curious on how the story continued in Midnight. Finally, I think that Jeffrey is an important voice in Christian fantasy, and I want to see what comes of his work.
I have several things, including a review of the book and an interview with the author. I have several past posts covering Auralia's Colors (here, here, here, and there).
You can also visit Jeffrey Overstreet’s Web site, blog, or find him on Facebook. And as always, see my amazing tourmates below (Rebecca LuElla Miller always keeps a list of those that have posted each day).
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Todd Michael Greene
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Alice M. Roelke
Rachel Starr Thomson
Jason sez: My wife was going to read this book to review, but alas, Real Life Intervenes (TM) once again. Here's the official CFBA blurb.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mary's writing journey is similar to a lot of others. Boil it down to persistence, oh, go ahead and call it stubbornness. She just kept typing away. She think the reason she did it was because she was more or less a dunce around people—prone to sit silently when she really ought to speak up(or far worse, speak up when she ought to sit silently).
So, Mary had all these things, she want to say, in her head; the perfect zinger to the rude cashier, which you think of an hour after you’ve left the store, the perfect bit of wisdom when someone needs help, which doesn’t occur to you until they solve their problems themselves, the perfect guilt trip for the kids, which you don’t say because you’re not an idiot. She keep all this wit to herself, much to the relief of all who know her, and then wrote all her great ideas into books. It’s therapeutic if nothing else, and more affordable than a psychiatrist.
So then a very nice, oh so nice publishing company like Barbour Heartsong comes along and says, “Hey, we’ll pay you money for this 45,000 word therapy session.” That’s as sweet as it gets.
Mary's journey to publication is the same as everyone’s except for a few geniuses out there who make it hard for all of us. And even they probably have an Ode to Roast Beef or two in their past.
There are two other books in this Lassoed In Texas Series: Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon
ABOUT THE BOOK
All aboard for a delightful, suspense-filled romance, where a Texan is torn between his attraction to a meddlesome schoolmarm and the charms of a designing dressmaker. When Hannah Cartwright meets Grant, she's determined to keep him from committing her orphans to hard labor on his ranch. How far will she go to ensure their welfare?
Grant Cooper is determined to provide a home for the two kids brought in by the orphan train as runs head-on into the new school marm, who believes he's made slave labor out of eight orphaned children. He crowds too many orphans into his rickety house, just like Hannah Cartwright's cruel father. Grant's family of orphans have been mistreated too many times by judgmental school teachers. Now the new schoolmarm is the same except she's so pretty and she isn't really bad to his children, it's Grant she can't stand.
But he is inexplicably drawn to Hannah. Can he keep his ragtag family together while steering clear of love and marriage? Will he win her love or be caught in the clutches of a scheming seamstress?
If you would like to read the first chapter of Gingham Mountain, go HERE
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The NY Times recently had an article entitled "And Baby Makes How Many?" that was triggered from the woman with the octuplets and 6 other kids, as well as the popularity of shows featuring The Duggars (17 kids) and Jon and Kate plus eight. The article discussed how family size in the U.S. is shrinking overall, which is making large families an exception that is more and more looked down upon.
Replacement level for a population is 2.1, and that is the current American birth rate, even though it has actually been lower recently and only got back UP to 2.1 in the last year stats were available. The article focuses on megafamilies, with 6+ kids, but it stated that people with more than 3 kids often get "raised eyebrows".
The article itself is pretty respectful and non-judgmental, although it mentions that people with larger families could be considered "freak show attractions" nowadays. The comments to the article...now that is a different story.
The commenters mostly decried people having more than 2 kids "irresponsible" and "selfish", trashing Earth's resources for their own self-fulfillment (or more clinically put, "evolutionary need to replicate"-reminds me of the part in The Matrix when Agent Smith compares humanity to a virus). Some were generous enough to deem it appropriate to have 2 kids, then adopt needy kids/orphans if you HAD to have more than two. Heaven forbid the carbon footprint that is left by a family of 4 kids or more.
The majority of comments were disturbing on many levels. Besides the judgments and disdain for some people's "choice" when it collides with their own self-interest, there were some issues that no one in the comments noted. I wanted to post there, but the comments were closed by the time I read the article.
First of all, do we want to become like other societies that have effective "family planning?" Countries like Japan, where a demographic crisis is looming because they are getting older without a young workforce to support the elderly? Perhaps Germany, which is rapidly becoming less German, since German families don't hit the replacement level of 2.1 kids, but immigrant families from Eastern Europe and Turkey are filling the void, keeping their own culture without assimilating to German ways in the process? I know, how about China? Since their one child rule, the percentage of male to females is dangerously imbalanced, which is already causing human trafficking from other Asian countries to provide wives to the men who can't find the very in-demand Chinese women?
Some in the comments cited the 70's era Population Boom scare, which has not occurred as doomsayers were predicting back then. Technological advances have continued to allow us to produce enough food, even if political and infrastructure problems still keep way too many people without proper resources.
I am willing to become a better steward of our resources, and I want to see poverty eradicated so people in undeveloped countries have more opportunities other than having many kids so some will have a chance of surviving. However, the crass hypocrisy and judgmentalism from the commenters is pretty remarkable in a country where all sorts of "freedoms" are promoted, unless it goes against the current postmodern, environment-worshipping culture we seem to have at this time. Overall, as a parent of four wonderful children, whom I plan on educating to be the best possible citizens of Earth during their sojourn, even as I hopefully help them reach their potential in the Kingdom of heaven, I want to say as carefully and intelligently as I can to those commenters:
Mind your own business.
(Bonus-I love some of the comebacks from parents of the megafamilies:
How can you afford so many? “Lifestyles are expensive, not kids.”
Don’t you know what causes that? “Oh, yes, I now wash my husband’s underwear separately.”
Do you get any time for yourselves? “Obviously, or we wouldn’t have six kids.”)
Monday, February 09, 2009
The subjects are collected under Bible and Theology, History, Philosophy, Science, Literature, Arts, and Contemporary Culture. Quite a diversity, but the reading I've done so far is quite thought-provoking.
As a teaser, here's a quote from "Art-A Response to God's Beauty" by Lael Arrington, with an extensive quote from one of my favorites, Francis Schaeffer.
Schaeffer concludes, "What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some self-conscious evangelism...Christians ought not to be threatened by fantasy and imagination...The Christian is the really free man-he is free to have imagination. This is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.
Friday, February 06, 2009
My friend Rhonda read this book. She noted some nice spiritual points that were encouraging, but she found the plot slow and overall it was hard to get into the book.
ABOUT THE BOOK
When Romance Is In the Air, Word Gets Around Lauren Eldridge thought she'd wiped the dust of Daily, Texas, off her boots forever. Screenwriter Nate Heath thought he was out of second chances. Life's never that predictable, though. Cajoled by her father, Lauren is back in town helping train a skittish race horse set to star in a Hollywood film. But the handsome screenwriter gives her more trouble than the horse. And Nate is realizing there's a spark of magic in the project--and in the eyes of the girl who is so good with horses. Daily, Texas, has a way of offering hope, healing, and a little romance just when folks need it most.
If you would like to read the first chapter of Word Gets Around, go HERE
What people are saying:
"Lisa Wingate writes engaging stories that strike the heart. God has gifted her with a marvelous talent and I, for one, am most grateful."
—Debbie Macomber, New York Times #1 bestselling author
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
ABOUT THE BOOK
A New Orleans lady and a half-breed frontiersman become unlikely allies as they travel the wilds of texas.
In 1821, when circumstances make it impossible for her to remain in New Orleans, Dorritt and her family head west to join Stephen Austin's settlement and recoup their fortune in Texas.
Quinn is a man of the frontier who has made a name for himself as a peerless scout. But as he and Dorritt's party begin a grueling trek across untamed Texas, the success of their journey is in grave doubt. Mexico has broken with the Spanish Crown, and armies from both countries—plus marauding Comanches—roam the pine forests and prairies. And one of the party is plotting destruction.
Now, with their lives joined in a virgin land fraught with peril, can Dorritt and Quinn put all their trust in God and receive the desires of their hearts?
If you would like to read the first chapter of Desires Of Her Heart, go HERE