Monday, April 25, 2011

Girls Like Us

A strange title for a man's blog post, no?

Well, stick around, because this is one of the most important blog posts I've written. Nothing like setting myself up for failure...

SO - as if I didn't have enough books I signed up for the Amazon Vine program, where they send me books in exchange for an honest review on Amazon. I was amazed by the list of items to choose from. Only two? Probably for the best.

I picked a novel and then took a chance on a book called Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd. Anyone who's followed my blog knows that human trafficking is a deep concern for me. I've read books and web articles by those who work to help the victims of trafficking. I made it a point to listen to Laura Lederer, the former head of the State Department task force on human trafficking, at a talk at the local university. I'm versed in the issue.

But nothing prepared me for Rachel Lloyd's story.

That's because she lived the life of a victim of trafficking.

The subtitle for the book is: Fighting For A World Where Girls Are Not For Sale, An Activist Finds Her Calling And Heals Herself. This sums up the content of the book well. The book is told from Rachel's point of view, but it is not a straight-forward memoir or autobiography.

The book is organized by different topics that affect girls who end up trafficked for sex: family neglect and abuse, pimps, johns, cops and legal authorities, trying to escape, relapse, and healing. The story is fully engaging by alternating Rachel's experiences of falling into the sex industry in Germany as a teenager to how other girls she's worked with since have had similar problems. All along she is discussing the issue at the heart of the chapter - whether it is the men who provide the demand, the problems with existing laws in dealing with the issue, or the work of people to provide a way out.

Rachel survived drugs, alcohol, abuse, and death threats. Upon leaving the industry and her pimp, she found a church in German military base where she started her healing process. When she came to the States in 1997, she started working with girls who ended up forced into prostitution. She eventually started GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, to work with victims in New York. The book is gripping with the details of Rachel's own trials and those of the women she is serving.

The book does a lot of education, using the themes above to discuss issues and misconceptions related to prostitution. She challenges the mindset that teen girls choose this lifestyle, the influence of pop culture on glorifying pimps and the control involved, and the way advocates are working to address the problems of the legal system in working with these kids. However, it is not preachy or lecturing. Instead, the heart is impacted by the stories of the Jasmines, Tiffanys, Aishas, and Rachel herself.

Reading this book deeply affected me. The prologue made me want to read all day, so I moved on. After reading the first chapter, I had to stop because I was shocked. I'm a rural boy from Idaho, so I don't get out to the big city all that much, and I couldn't believe what I was reading. I wasn't turned off, but I needed a break. The book does have rough language, especially in the middle of the book, so the sensitive are warned. However, my feeling is if you can't read this book and get past a little salty language, then shame on you.

The book convicted me as a man in the ways, however small, I contribute to the sexual glorification of women, because this snowballs into lust that puts these vulnerable girls at risk. It made me want to do what I can to help combat the problem, whether on the side of demand or helping the victims. My passion is increased because my compassion is engaged.

The problem of human trafficking is real. There are more slaves in the world today than during the height of the African slave trade. It isn't just an international problem. Rachel shows the readers how it is a problem right here in the United States. I believe every true Christian, and anyone with a heart for the victim of poverty, injustice, and abuse, should read this book to understand it a little better.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

CSFF Tour Day 3 - The Strange Man

People are strange, when you're a stranger...

Yep, we're wrapping up the CSFF Tour featuring The Strange Man by Greg Mitchell. I wanted to look at one interesting tactic he used, after highlighting a couple of blog posts from my tourmates.

Jessica Thomas takes an in-depth and thoughtful look at the book and issues raised by it, including discussing the nature of Satan.

Bruce Hennigan looks at the way Christian fiction has changed by accepting a book such as The Strange Man. (Even though it is labeled "supernatural suspense," it really is a horror story).

And our intrepid leader Becky Miller discusses the elephant in the room, considering the theology of being saved and bearing fruit as it plays out in the book.

Oh, and the book comes with a bonus short story, "Among The Dead," set with the same characters and location but 10 years prior. It gives a nice context for the book, and is plenty creepy in only a few pages!

One trick Greg used that I liked is making the quiet, struggling town of Greensboro a character in the book. The town has a role to play as pivotal as most of the characters in the book, with only the Strange Man, Dras, and Rosalyn taking a bigger part.

The town had thrived in the past, but a new highway left it behind, and the town was dwindling. Dras's best friend Rosalyn wants to get out partly due to the lack of a future there (partly to escape her past as well). Many times in the book Greg gives Greensboro enough personality that it stands out as part of this drama, instead of just being the setting for it. When the ancient evil that has been hovering about, abiding its time, decides that the spiritual climate has diminished enough in the town to allow evil to show itself, it is really the inciting event of the book.

I'd like to see a little more description of Greensboro and its layout, but Greensboro makes for an interesting part of the story in its own right.

There's more opinions and discussion out there, and I invite you to check out the other fine folks talking about The Strange Man at Becky's blog.

The Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour - the best blogging of the month!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

CSFF Tour Day 2 - The Strange Man

The Strange Man.

It is an evocative title. Why is he strange? What is going on? A look at the cover grabs your eye and might give shivers to someone.

Why have a book like this in Christian speculative fiction?

As others have said in better arguments, Christian fiction is a place that should be able to depict the fight between good and evil, light and darkness, with more authenticity than any horror writer or slasher film. We know there is a battle for souls, with eternal consequences. We know we have a real enemy that is worse than anything that can be imagined.

The review:
The Strange Man has an interesting premise, a promising introduction, a mix of suspense and a little goofy humor, and a cliffhanger ending. These are all positive things I got out of the book. I gave a short synopsis of the book yesterday, and the main character Dras Weldon is an unlikely hero. He does some crazy things like haggling with kids over a vintage G.I. Joe action figure (Snake Eyes! - mega geek points there) and riding his bike sans pants. He adds some humor over the first 2/3 of the book with his slacker ways. Unfortunately, he also becomes a hard character to root for, as his immature ways and cluelessness made me want to smack him after a while.

Overall, the book has some strong points, but ultimately failed to engage me at several points. The suspense is built up well in the first act, but sags in the middle. He ups the ante considerably in the third act, but some of the character progressions seem to be too much in too short a time.


Dras realizes to fight the demonic influence of the Strange Man he must turn to his childhood faith. He was painted as such a stunted adult that his turn-around and willingness to sacrifice anything for his friend Rosalyn is too incredible. I'm willing to accept a demonic force walking around town, but a sudden shift of character is too much. Also, the events that lead to the climax seem too outrageous as well. Dras is accused of killing a police officer, and when that happened I put the book down in frustration for the day. Too improbable, so it threw me out of the fictive picture I was painting in my mind.


It seems that Greg has enjoyed the horror genre and wants to emulate it with a Christian twist. I admire his goal, and I applaud writers using this genre (not necessarily my preferred, admittedly) to share a redemptive theme in an accessible form. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't have enough behind it to propel it through the whole book. The middle starts bouncing us around different people, confusing me and taking away from the central characters. Plot points are introduced and lost. The trick is, this is supposed to be The Coming Evil Trilogy. I don't know if there's enough to power it through.

It also suffers from a lot of inconsistencies. Greensboro is at once a dying town, but other times has crowds of teens and college-aged students at a dance club. Demons outrace cars but can't catch Dras on his bicycle.

Finally, as a writer I noticed that he had a hard time staying in one point of view for a scene. I don't know if general readers pick up this like I do (having been ruined for reading like I have) but I know I had to check back several times to see who was doing the thinking/perceiving. All of that tends to throw off the reading experience, I feel.

The end even felt improbable from the spoiler section above, but he put enough What the? factor that I am curious to what happens next. Unfortunately, I won't be returning to Greensboro to find out.

Now this is just one person's opinion. Becky Miller keeps track of all the tour posts, so be sure to check around to see if I'm way out there on this one. It wouldn't be the first time...
(I received a free copy of The Strange Man in return for a review and my participation in the CSFF Blog Tour. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

CSFF Tour Day 1 - The Strange Man

April - the month that should herald in spring. In Idaho it is ushering in strange weather. Well, not really - our weather usually stinks this time of year. But it is also the month to introduce The Strange Man  to you, courtesy of new author Greg Mitchell and the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy tour.

We're in the midst of a supernatural suspense kick. Last month we featured Mike Duran and his book The Resurrection. In June we have Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso. We've done runs of fantasy, blocks of YA speculative fiction. If you're in the mood for a supernatural scare, then we are the place to be.

The Strange Man is Greg's debut novel. It has a haunting cover and an interesting premise.

The town of Greensboro is a typical town that is struggling with new highways and more interesting things to do in its neighbors. The people are holding on to what they've had in the past, except for their faith. That seems to be slipping away, and someone is noticing this.

Dras Weldon is your typical adult adolescent, not willing to grow up and out of his world of comic books, action figures, and B horror movies. The fact that his childhood best friend Rosalyn is looking to actually move on from Greensboro isn't helping. He is tired of hearing criticism from his older brother, the pastor, as well.

When The Strange Man decides the time is ripe for Greensboro's harvest, Dras is an unlikely combatant. He doesn't have anything to fight with, unless he can reconnect with his withered faith in time.

Below you'll find what our other tourmates are saying. Tomorrow I'll be reviewing The Strange Man, and Wednesday I'm planning to talk about an interesting character in the book - unless the tour surprises me with something else. It has before!

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell
Kathy Brasby
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
CSFF Blog Tour
Amber French
Tori Greene
Katie Hart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Carol Keen
Inae Kyo
Emily LaVigne
Shannon McDermott
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Gavin Patchett
Andrea Schultz
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Doctrine and Discussion, Part 2

Ready for round 2?

Yesterday I posted about the discussion surrounding Rob Bell and his latest book Love Wins. (Not about the book itself, if that's what you're looking for - but stick around anyway!) In watching the discussion online, I noticed an accusation that was disconcerting. Many people questioned whether there was heresy or an admission of universalism in the book. That wasn't my issue. My concern came when some commenters started hitting back accusing critics of placing more importance on doctrine over love and relationship.

My previous point was the repetitive admonishment in the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus over teaching sound doctrine. Paul stressed that over and over again in those books, so I don't think it is out of line for people to actually question whether there are doctrinal problems in any author's work.

I had another point though, the subject of today's post. Again, I go to the pastoral letters for support.

"Did not!" "Did so!"
 Paul repeats another theme for Timothy and Titus: avoid quarrelsome speech (Titus 3:2, 1 Tim 3:3, 2 Tim 2:14, 24). This idea is suggested several times, also in the form of controversies, dissensions, or myths.

I've seen this in many arenas, from Christians fighting amongst themselves to politicians tearing each other down. This has frustrated me for a long time. A person can spout fully orthodox positions, be clearly speaking God's word, but they do it in such an ugly manner that it totally demeans the very point they're trying to make.

People on both sides of the Rob Bell debate have been guilty of this. Whether they're angry, smug, sarcastic, condemning, or just plain nasty or rude, they are violating another key point of the pastoral letters. "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth." (2 Tim 2:24-25).

How we react in such things is just as important as the what and why! We may be speaking the truth, but if we do it in the wrong spirit, then we are also disobeying the Lord and walking in sin. I've been very disturbed to see televangelists or a conservative Christian politician tear down opponents of their positions. That, to me, is not the Spirit of Christ.

Don't get me wrong. Titus 1:9 tells us that an overseer must "be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it." Mature believers have a responsibility to examine an idea from a book, a teacher, a church, and to see if it matches up with sound doctrine. But the heart of the matter can be lost if it is done in anger or putting someone down.

Romans 12:20-21 says: “'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." OK, so I don't think this passage should be considered to be calling Rob Bell or his detractors "enemies" or "evil." The principle is moving in the opposite spirit. Shouldn't Christians be able to speak with grace and gentleness, especially with issues involving other Christians?

I've really enjoyed studying the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus lately. I've had to step up into a new leadership position at my church, so I figured Paul's advice here would be valuable. The dual emphasis on teaching sound doctrine but doing so without quarreling/with gentleness in these letters has been a poignant reminder in what I've been reading online lately. My hope for anyone reading these two posts is that they continue to seek the truth, but speak it in love.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Doctrine and Discussion

I <3 questions!

Rob Bell. Universalism. Heresy. Love Wins.

There's a few words that should hit the search engines! There's been a lot of discussion in the Christian blogosphere over the last month, and much of it was related to those points above. The discussion has ranged from rancorous to gentle, and has often generated more heat than light.

I've been an interested observer during this. I haven't read the book, I'm not afraid to read it, but I don't know if I'll get around to it (as a friend has said before, my "to be read" pile threatens low-flying aircraft). What I have been reading compels me to share a few thoughts.

There's been a lot of critique over Love Wins, and there's been backlash over this. People have been critical of those raising objections to some of the theology in the book. At times, it has seemed to be a push-back against the questions. I've seen posts on Facebook and Twitter talking about legalism vs. love, as if we are only dealing with a dualism in this. Those who ask questions whether Rob Bell is theologically correct are being likened to the Pharisees. Can't we reason together without it denigrating one side or the other?

Paul, when writing the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, keeps hammering a theme home: the need to teach sound doctrine. When a book of the Bible repeats a subject, it is a clue to us that it is important. When three books do that, even more so. I was amazed reading through these books how often he stresses this to Timothy and Titus. Didn't these guys spend a lot of time with Paul? Wouldn't they see how important it was by then?

Obviously it is important to Paul, because there are several mentions of the idea of "sound doctrine/instruction/teaching." The qualifications of an elder including holding on to the trustworthy message (Titus 1:9). They are to pass the teaching on to reliable people (2 Tim 2:2). If he mentions it this much to two men who stood with Paul to the end, then the idea of sound doctrine is an important idea, even if our post-modern age likes to ask questions without many answers.

I don't pretend that the Church has God totally figured out. He is so grand and majestic that there is a mystery to Him. As John said, books on end could be written about Jesus and they wouldn't cover enough about him. (I'm also reminded of the Teacher who says "Of making many books there is no end.")

Still, we have the Word of God that is reliable and God-breathed. We can know Him, and we can understand principles of right doctrine. Paul admonishes us repeatedly to hold to sound doctrine. It may not be in favor, but I'll stand there instead of quelling any criticism. We should be able to discuss issues like Love Wins in a way that honors Paul's teaching fully...

Which is why I've got a follow up post tomorrow with more on this point! See you then ;)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Stuck and Getting Un-stuck

No one likes getting stuck.

What is my next plot point???

 <--Especially THAT kind of stuck. But I'm talking about getting stuck in a novel, not knowing how to move forward. I hit a standstill recently for two reasons. First, I found through some critique that I was heading down a path I didn't want with a character. She was supposed to be nicer than what she was appearing. Also, I hit a plot point that has me a little tripped up.

I struggle getting out of these predicaments. I'm a streaky writer. If I can build up momentum, then I can keep plugging along. If I get thrown off track, then it kills that head of steam, and I have a hard time building it back up.

I know that I need to keep with consistency, to keep at it. It just gets tricky to maneuver in those circumstances. I've heard it said if you get stuck to "stick a bomb under the sofa." I can see where that would be helpful. You just have to be ready to pick up the pieces when it goes off.

I'll get past this choke point - I have several others. Hopefully I can find better ways to deal with this in the future.

My question to writer friends is: How do you get past being stuck in your WIP?