Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Merrie DeStefano's "Afterlife"

Merrie DeStefano is a buddy of Spoiled for the Ordinary, and she has a debut novel coming out later this year: Afterlife. It is urban fantasy, and it looks intriguing. Check out the blog Supernatural Underground for more info from Merrie, as well as her blog.

I'll be looking forward to this one.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Stephen Lawhead on Writing

Stephen Lawhead is one of the best speculative fiction authors out there currently, and even though he is a Christian who writes, he has had success crossing over into the general market. 

He recently did an interview with C.J. Darlington over at TitleTrakk.com (a great resource on fiction, movies, and music that I too often overlook) that had an excellent discussion on his approach to writing. Below is the extended quote, but I encourage you to check out the whole interview, buy Stephen's new book, and bookmark TitleTrakk for frequent viewing! The highlighted areas are by me:

"CJ: You are a Christian, but you don't necessarily write what people call “Christian fiction”. The Skin Map touches on some greater themes without the bad language and violence. Is that purposeful on your part?

SL: I write for the widest possible readership, and I always have, even at Campus Life magazine. This whole thing about earning the right to be heard is important. I always enjoyed the classic, golden age of the novel, back in the 1880's and 1890's. It's amazing how many men of faith were involved in that, and yet the books they produced are not labeled Christian fiction; they just wrote books for people like themselves who liked to read. That's what I've tried to do. Sometimes I would like to have a little freer hand with the language, but I know that can also be a barrier. I've learned that most people in books when they use off color language, that is usually a failure of imagination, if nothing else. It's also a moral failure. It's so easy to put a graphic word or a swear word for shock value. But when I use a word I want it to mean what it means and have the value that I put on it. There are rare times when an artist needs to even have black on his pallette. You have to draw the line somewhere, and where I choose to draw it may be over the line for some people and others sail right by it. I don't willfully try to offend, but sometimes you reach for a word and there are only one or two that will do. In The Skin Map we use the word “bastard” a couple times in the way it is intended to be used, but I'm sure some people will not appreciate that.

A fiction story is meant to present a dream, a sort of waking dream for the reader. You want to create a world where they can enter in and participate. You try everything you can to keep that dream alive in a continuous, seamless, whole. Any jolts that wake the reader up from the dream have to go, whether it's a clunky scene or a sentence that isn't quite right. You try to minimize shocks that will wake up the reader that you are trying to lull into a dream. Language can do that. Sex scenes are quite overdone these days, so I try to write scenes that aren't dependent on that. I got in trouble with that with Patrick, because he's a 17 year old young guy whose attracted to all the young ladies. To make it true to his life as a saint who has to battle these demons there was a scene or two that was illustrative of this point. Some people don't understand why that has to be there, especially for good ol' Saint Patrick, but even the best saints struggle. That is part of the human condition."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The CSFF Greatest Hits - Number 1

Ah, this is it!

The CSFF Tour for August has the loose theme of "favorites." Some bloggers have talked about their all-time favorite books. My take was to go over all the tours I've been a part of and pull out my favorite books and tours. Which books inspired me?

Honorable mention goes to Robin Parrish and his book Fearless. A wildly suspenseful read, and it inspired my most-visited post, "Why Do We Need Heroes?"

BUT...out of over 40 Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog Tours, the book (and tour) that came out on top..

I give you number
Blaggard's Moon by George Bryan Polivka.

This book is special.

Bryan writes with a descriptive touch that "sets the reader on the high seas feeling the salt air, or ducking the musket balls and choking on the gunpowder." He writes characters that each leap off the page, with individual voices that make them seem real (sometimes too real).

This book was written after his Trophy Chase trilogy of pirate books, but is actually a prequel. It sets up the trilogy in a marvelous way, but stands on its own with a heartfelt tale of revenge, love, and loss.

Make it so, number one
The book has a unique structure, with pirate Smith Delaney waiting for a certain, gruesome death recalling a story told by master pirate storyteller Ham Drumbone. The back and forth between two different storytellers and the story is a little confusing at first, but is well worth the effort.
The book follows pirate king Conch Imbry, pirate hunter Damrick Fellows and mysterious lady Jenta Smithmiller as intrigue, battle, and death weaves throughout. The reader is left guessing how this all ties together, which it does very nicely at the end. Will Damrick succeed in clearing piracy from the waters, or will the wily Conch outwit the determined vigilante? And how does beautiful Jenta affect both men's plans?

That's right! #1!
I have to say that I had fun with the tour as well because I had a special visitor for this blog tour. One of the scurvy scoundrels from the book, Spinner Sleeve, stopped by to, uh, "oversee" what I had to say. Having a pirate at your back and a cutlass at your throat makes for an interesting blogging experience.

For the rest of my posts on Blaggard's Moon and the rest of Polivka's Trophy Chase trilogy, see these posts.

This tour has a lot of interesting posts featuring a variety of speculative fiction. Get the updated list here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The CSFF Greatest Hits - Number 2

Greetings, wayward travelers. You have come upon the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Tour for August. This month you are treated to a "free-for-all", as we had no specific book or website to promote. Instead, you will find a wide variety of books discussed, from all-time favorites such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, to newer books by contemporary authors.

Here at Spoiled for the Ordinary, I am focusing on books from the 4 years I've been doing the tour (o_O). My how time flies...

Coming in at number
The two books of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and North! Or Be Eaten.

I can't think of a better series (other than Narnia) to recommend for kids other than the Wingfeather Saga. Andrew Peterson has created a fun fantasy series with peril, adventures, and toothy cows. Who can ask for more than that?

Peterson is an accomplished singer/songwriter, so his prose, as I've mentioned before, has a lyrical quality to it. He keeps a great pace, leaving my kids dying whenever we hit a cliffhanger as I read to them (which is pretty much every chapter!) It is probably most reminscent of The Princess Bride, with whimsy and suspense. I mean, how great is it to have a bad guy who is a Nameless Evil, (named Gnag the Nameless, natch). This leader of the Fangs of Dang (dang Fangs!) is after the Lost Jewels of Anniera. He thinks the Igiby children have them in the first book, only to find out (spoilers) that the three kids ARE the lost jewels.

The world Peterson has created is a magical place, with a great literary history (Peterson often quotes from these imaginary works, the footnotes are worth reading in this book). There is a thoughfulness about this work, and the deep themes within it, that continue to resonate in me after several readings.

I have to also give a personal story. For a homeschool English assignment, I thought it would be a good exercise for my two older boys to write a letter to Peterson. They asked their own questions and offered their favorite parts of the book, as well as offering their artistic interpretations of key scenes (they each drew him a picture). My boys called me a couple weeks later at work so excited, because Andrew had written them each a personal handwritten letter, refering to their letters specifically, and commenting on their art. What a class act!

So for number 2 in CSFF Tours, I have to give a shout out to a good man, a great musician, and a thoughtful writer, Andrew Peterson! If you have missed these books, you have missed a treat. And bomnubbles. Don't forget the bomnubbles.

See what else is going on for the CSFF Tour this month with the latest at Becky's blog (the mother ship as we like to say...)

Oh, and a note from Becky: "Before I forget, we have just a little over a week left in the voting for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction – Readers’ Choice. I hope you’re planning to vote."

I voted for North! Or Be Eaten. What's your vote?


Monday, August 23, 2010

The CSFF Greatests Hits - Number 3

Hearken back to May of 2006. Do you remember what was happening back then? Do you even remember what you had for breakfast yesterday?

Anyway, I recall (thanks to the power of the web) that it was the first time I participated in the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy tour! Amazing how time flies. There have been a lot of good books that we've covered, and for this special August 2010 edition of the CSFF Tour, I give you Spoiled for the Ordinary's best of:

Coming in at number...
is The Gifted series by Lisa T. Bergren, from April 2009. The CSFF Tour featured the first book of the series, The Begotten for this tour. The story continues in The Betrayed and The Blessed.

This series was set in Italy of the 1300's, a dynamic time with rival popes competing for leadership of the Church and the continued mixing of cultures across the Mediterranean Sea. The premise rests on the Lost Corinthian Correspondence of St. Paul, letters lost at the compilation of the Bible.

Fragments of the letters are being hunted by Father Pietro and Lady Daria, as it foretells the gathering of a group called The Gifted that will walk in the gifts of the Holy Spirit to bring light and healing to a dark time. The group is pursued by a lord willing to walk in very evil ways in order to bring the Gifted to ruin.

This series was considered borderline "speculative" as it is set in a historical period and wasn't fully science fiction or fantasy. Still, the premise and supernatural aspect of the story brought it to the attention of the CSFF Tour, and it became one of my favorite series we have featured. Bergren did a lot of research and brought this intriguing pre-Renaissance period to life. The characters were rich and the suspense thick. I had two books in mind for this tour, and needing a third to feature. After skimming through all of my CSFF posts, I had almost forgotten about The Gifted. I'm tempted to pull them out and re-read them after refreshing my mind - if you missed this series and enjoy a historical tale, make sure to check this out. 

Read my review and other thoughts on The Begotten at these links. Check back Tuesday and Wednesday for my 2nd and 1st favorite tour books.

In the meantime, I'm sure these folks will have some interesting posts as well - my fellow CSFF tourmates!
Brandon Barr
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
George Duncan
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Mike Lynch
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Jason Waguespac
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Does "Nightmare" Belong in the CBA?

On Friday I reviewed Nightmare by Robin Parrish. As a paranormal suspense novel, close to a horror novel, this book has received some interesting reviews. None of the reviews I've seen have said that it is a bad story. They all acknowledge Robin as a good suspense author.

However, a few reviews I've seen (on Christianbook.com, a couple during the CFBA tour) turn negative when they talk about the spiritual aspects of the book. Obviously Nightmare takes on a topic that may seem to go against some people's theology. To this I say, make sure you read the book all the way through, and read it carefully. It is a work of speculative fiction - as in "speculate." He is not saying a definitive position on the topic, he came up with a suspenseful story idea and worked on it. If you expect a treatise on spiritual warfare you'll be disappointed.

Spoilers Ahead!

Robin never denies or totally affirms the paranormal in the book. He writes an author note at the back of the book saying he believes closer to a Christian character in the book, and warns people that he does not believe dabbling in the paranormal is a good idea at all. The plot hinges around a machine that is able to remove a person's soul from their body. There is a large McGuffin plot device that pops up at this time to explain this. The people are able to be reconnected soul to body at the end.

End Spoilers

I've had some bad experience with things like Dungeons and Dragons in the past. I believe that Christians shouldn't dabble in every possible form of evil or paranormal. This is a whole different ball game to me. I don't believe he is trying to glamorize anything, but to use a plot point to tell a story. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Robin makes sure at the end to remind people it is just a story to make people think - not to sermonize on ghosts or glorify any kind of evil. At least in my opinion.

So is there a place in CBA fiction for a book like Nightmare? The answer is: it depends who you ask!

Nightmare is going to trip up some people who think that CBA fiction means uplifting, theologically correct books that are squeaky clean in the orthodoxy department. Thus the negative reviews. There is another segment of readers who are more open to fiction that has a little more ambiguity, without things fully nailed to a theological premise. People who read science fiction or fantasy should have no problem in general. I would like to see a CBA industry that has room for authors like Robin Parrish or Eric Wilson. However, in my opinion there is enough resistance to writers like them at this time that they may need to pursue other options in publishing.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review - Nightmare

Robin Parrish chills and thrills in his latest book

A few weeks ago I used Nightmare, the new book from suspense author Robin Parrish, as a springboard into a discussion about the boundaries of Christian fiction. Since then, a discussion has taken on a life of its own (others started talking about this at the same time).

I got caught up in this debate, but in the meantime I finished Nightmare. So what is this book about, and does it "fit" in Christian fiction?

Nightmare is the story of Maia Peters, a college student who had an unusual upbringing - her parents were ghost hunters on a famous TV show. Maia grew up on the paranormal, so there wasn't a lot that could scare her. When her friends drag her to the latest in theme parks, "Ghost Town," she isn't impressed.

That is, until a familiar face and voice form out of a mist and warn her, "The nightmare is coming."

The face belongs to Jordin Cole, a rich orphaned classmate who has a fascination with the supernatural. Jordin had hired Maia to explore several "known" hauntings to explore these phenomena, but Maia hadn't seen her in months. She didn't know that Jordin had disappeared.

Now Jordin's fiance is looking for her and asking for Maia's help. The pair retrace Jordin's steps, trying to find the nightmare before it comes. However, messing with the supernatural may have a heavy price to pay...
The Good
Robin Parrish is one imaginative fellow. He has come up with some amazing tales in his writing career. Nightmare does not disappoint. The plot alternates between Maia's search for Jordin and the adventures Jordin and Maia have seeking out haunting hot spots. You can tell Robin did his research, as the settings are actual sites of reported paranormal activity. There's an added bonus of grainy pictures in front of these sections. The pace doesn't let up, and he has a gift for keeping the pages turning frantically. This was the type of book I'd pull out of my backpack in between work assignments to read "just a little more."

Several reviewers commented that this was a book to read with the lights on. There was one section that seemed a little creepy to me, but nothing that was excessive. I can see how some people might get freaked.

Finally, that cover ROCKS! Best one I've seen this year.

The Critique
Robin is also very intelligent, and he writes with a specific voice and a fluent vocabulary. After reading all of his books, I feel his characters sound too much alike. Maia didn't seem to be too feminine (which was her character), but I never felt she had a "female" voice. Then again, Robin always seems to have very intelligent characters, so perhaps this is natural. Not a big deal, but something I noticed in this book.

The "Huh?"
I think every book has a "huh?" moment. Robin is proud of his geek cred (since he blogs for ForeverGeek). So I was pretty shocked when I came upon page 259. There is an otherwise excellent Star Wars reference, but "Wookiee" is misspelled! Don't worry Robin, I blame it on the editors.

The Verdict
As far as Nightmare goes, it is a very entertaining, suspenseful read. It also makes one think about some mysteries in our world in regards to the paranormal. The book doesn't spell it out for the reader - we get to think about it. I recommend this book to any fan of suspense, paranormal, or horror fiction.

Now where does this book belong in the library of Christian fiction? Well, *looking at his watch* we've run out of time. Check back next time with my thoughts on this...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Awarding the Best in Christian Speculative Fiction

My friend Becky Miller is a tireless promoter for Christian speculative fiction (encompassing science fiction, fantasy, and similar genres). Last year she worked with others to introduce a new award that would highlight Christian speculative fiction. It was christened the "Clive Staples Award" (being the full name of one C.S. Lewis).

If you are a regular reader, you can vote for this year's winner. The rules are that you read at least two of the finalists. You can vote throughout August, with the vote closing September 1. You vote for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place book (with the option only vote for 1 or 2 if you don't have a full three choices).

I encourage any fan of the CSFF Tour or the books we promote to take advantage of this opportunity. This is for the readers to speak out. I have my clear favorites. Let's see in September which book is this year's Clive Staple Award winner! Go vote HERE!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

CFBA Tour - The Gathering Storm

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

The Gathering Storm
Summerside Press (August 1, 2010)

Bodie and Brock Thoene


Bodie and Brock Thoene (pronounced Tay-nee) have written over 50 works of historical fiction. Over twenty million of these best-selling novels are in print. Eight ECPA Gold Medallion Awards affirms what millions of readers have already discovered—the Thoenes are not only master stylists but experts at capturing readers’ minds and hearts.

Bodie began her writing career as a teen journalist for her local newspaper. Eventually her byline appeared in prestigious periodicals such as U.S. News and World Report, The American West, and The Saturday Evening Post. She also worked for John Wayne’s Batjac Productions (she’s best known as author of The Fall Guy) and ABC Circle Films as a writer and researcher. John Wayne described her as “a writer with talent that captures the people and the times!” She has degrees in journalism and communications.

Brock has often been described by Bodie as “an essential half of this writing team.” With degrees in both history and education, Brock has, in his role as researcher and story-line consultant, added the vital dimension of historical accuracy. Due to such careful research, The Zion Covenant and The Zion Chronicles series are recognized by the American Library Association, as well as Zionist libraries around the world, as classic historical novels and are used to teach history in college classrooms.

Bodie and Brock have four grown children—Rachel, Jake, Luke, and Ellie—and seven grandchildren. Their sons, Jake and Luke, are carrying on the Thoene family talent as the next generation of writers, and Luke produces the Thoene audiobooks.

Bodie and Brock divide their time between London and Nevada.


As Nazi forces tighten the noose, Loralei Kepler, daughter of a German resistance leader, must flee her beloved Germany. But is any place safe from Adolf Hitler's evil grasp? Loralei's harrowing flight leads her into the arms of needy child refugees, who have sacrificed everything in exchange for their lives, and toward a mysterious figure, who closely guards an age-old secret.

Explore the romance, the passion, and the danger of the most anticipated series of the last twenty years.

Born from the highly acclaimed and best-loved novels of three generations of readers -- The Zion Covenant series and The Zion Chronicles series -- Zion Diaries ventures into the lives of the inspiring and intriguing characters who loved intensely, stood up for what was right, and fought boldly during Hitler's rise to power and the dark days of World War II.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Gathering Storm, go HERE

Friday, August 06, 2010

Opinions on Christian Fiction

In the past few weeks there has been a healthy discussion about the state of Christian fiction. I talked about whether some CBA authors should seek publication for the general market via the ABA. That was nothing. Novelist Eric Wilson really sparked the discussion with his post "Is It Time for Christian Fiction to Die?" Then I collected several thoughtful posts together in a post last week (I encourage you to at least check this one out - not for my words, but the numerous links).

The conversation has been continuing at other places. I want to highlight a few. If anyone knows of other blogs/authors/etc talking about this, I'd love to read what they have to say.

My friend Nicole Petrino-Salter has written several novels, but is self-published, so she doesn't necessarily have an "insider's" view of CBA fiction. However, she is a prolific reader and blogger, and has cultivated relationships with numerous figures within CBA fiction. She reviews a plethora of novels and has an educated opinion about the whole matter.

She has posted her thoughts on her blog. Then, she has had three days (so far, more coming) of opinions from various individuals within the industry, authors and editors alike. Some of those commenting requested anonymity, as they still have to go to work in the morning! She asked them to make up to 5 recommendations for Christian/CBA fiction.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3 (the whole post is by Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press - very intriguing).

Another author posting about this is Robin Parrish, whose novel Nightmare started my own musing about the boundaries of Christian fiction. He wrote his opinion early this week (which I enjoyed), but I actually felt a comment on the article by Dana Timmerman was one of the best opinions I have read on this issue. He speaks of working hard on the business side of writing, to make sure the quality is as high as it can be, and to be broken before the Lord in approaching this ideal.

Finally, Robin in another post references this article wondering why there isn't more science fiction in the CBA (almost another subject, but relevant to this discussion). Of course I am interested in this idea as a member of the Christian Sci-fi/Fantasy blog tour.

The general consensus on the posts from Nicole is that the insiders would like to see a little more risk taking by the powers that be in CBA publishing. They would like readers to be willing to take chances on things a little more. There is acknowledgment that CBA fiction has grown a lot, but quality needs to be a continuing priority. There is mention of mentoring new talent, and grooming new authors to step in when the Karen Kingsburys and Ted Dekkers are done writing.

It seems to me that a consensus is out there, even if it isn't readily apparent. The people who want grittier fiction  recognize a place for "safe" fiction to read, but ask for a place that allows a Christian imprint to push books toward the mainstream more. I miss the old imprint West Bow, which used to be a label under Thomas Nelson. West Bow was producing the earlier Ted Dekker books, and had a reputation of books that pushed the boundaries.

Ultimately, CBA is a business, and it is run by supply and demand. People who ask for certain types of books (speculative fiction, horror, "realistic") need to support the books that do come out with their dollars. I could've gotten Nightmare for free through a review group, but I chose instead to buy it, as I was familiar with Robin's work and wanted to support him.

I'll keep an eye on the conversation as best I can and post updates as they come around. I hope the discussion continues in a productive manner, and I certainly encourage the conversation here!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Christians Are All Hypocrites

As I was riding along with a close friend in a certain Utah metropolitan area, he vented that he didn't like living in the center of Mormondom, because he felt Mormons were all hypocrites.

An epiphany hit me right then: he was right. Mormons are hypocrites.

So was he. So am I.

We are all hypocrites.

I'm writing this today because I see so many people nowadays, ESPECIALLY on the internet, decry Christians as hypocrites. It is getting popular to bash Christianity, not just from the "liberal elite" and "Hollywood elite" but your run-of-the-mill Joe on the street. Just last week, author Anne Rice "quit" Christianity. She says she is still centered on Christ, but she couldn't be associated with such close-minded people anymore. The comments on the articles regarding this had savage disregard for Christians by the majority of the posters.

This is what I wish my Twitter response would have been:

Pot: @Kettle: ur black! LOL!!11!
OK, before this gets too weird, what do I mean with all of this?

Truly, we are all hypocrites. The etymology of the word comes from the Greek, and it meant a stage actor or pretender. It of course stems from the root word hypocrisy, which also talks about playing a part.

This is very apt. We all play games and act the part. None of us are immune from putting on a phony front. None of us are consistent in how we act in comparison to what we believe. We may say cheating is wrong, but we find a way to work around the system into our favor. Sounds like cheating to me. A popular saying is "it was only a little white lie." And once my wife was only a little pregnant.

My friend felt Mormons weren't consistent with their standards of belief. Sure. I know numerous LDS adherents who practice very high benchmarks, but I must confess, none of them are perfect at holding up their standards. Neither am I. Of course it looks worse when religious people don't follow their creeds exactly, because religion is about holding a standard. It especially looks bad when an Evangelical pastor decries homosexuality but ends up with a male escort, or a Christian politician who ran on "family values" is sneaking off for an affair.

For those who blast Christians for hypocrisy, we have no defense. Yes, Christians are hypocrites. I am a horrible hypocrite. The Bible does not give Christians special leniency toward this; Jesus condemned this in the Sermon on the Mount:
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Christians need to keep this in mind, so we walk with the humility needed to realize we are going to screw up. However, the point for us is, we have an avenue for redemption. We have a way to better ourselves. We won't be perfect until we meet Jesus, but we have a hope. We have no excuse when we show hypocrisy. It is a sin, and there are consequences. I know I want to get better. For me it is the process of sanctification - meaning that the Holy Spirit is working in me to slowly change me. I wish it were faster, but the limitation comes from me alone.

For those who want to keep accusing Christians of hypocrisy - ya got us. But note the words from the apostle Matthew above - "for in the same way YOU JUDGE OTHERS, you will be judged." You've been warned. If you accuse people of hypocrisy, you might want to look in the mirror first. We're not alone.