Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Unfortunate "Voice"

I'm not Ashton Kutcher's biggest fan.

Mr. Twitter King has not been someone I've really enjoyed in films (alright, he was funny in Cheaper By The Dozen), and I just haven't paid him much attention.

However, this year my respect grew when he and his wife Demi Moore started the DNA Foundation to help fight child sex slavery and human trafficking. They started an ad campaign that shows different Hollywood actors doing some goofy things being "manly" with the tag line REAL MEN DON'T BUY GIRLS.

The ads have gotten a little flak for supposedly being off-target. I found them humorous enough and appreciated that the message of men not paying for forced child sexual exploitation was getting out. I am passionate about seeing human trafficking end in our lifetime, and hope more people recognize the scope of this issue.

Unfortunately, the Village Voice took exception to "goofy" Ashton getting serious about this issue. Their problem is supposedly "integrity". The article claims that the numbers used by the DNA Foundation and other activists of 100,000-300,000 children being "at risk" for sexual exploitation are wildly inflated. Oh, the article gives lip service to the tragedy of any child being exploited, but that statement is very weak compared to the vitriol stirred up through the rest of the article.

The article goes to lengths to paint Ashton as a doofus who is more interested in self-image than the actual issue. It discusses a "celebrity charity advisor" that helped Ashton and Demi craft a message against child sex trafficking. It attacks the studies used to get the above number, and tries to suggest it is wildly over-estimated.

The interesting part is when the article insinuates that faith-based groups working to help end slavery are in it to win big government bucks. The disdain and bias shows clearly when talking about anyone religious participating in this work.

A disclaimer reveals Village Voice's stake in the situation:
Congress hauled in Craigslist on September 15, 2010. There, feminists, religious zealots, the well-intentioned, law enforcement, and social-service bureaucrats pilloried the online classified business for peddling “100,000 to 300,000” underage prostitutes annually.
It goes on to say that Village Voice has always advertised for adult services, and feels attacked by the "devout" now that Craigslist was taken to the woodshed.

I am shocked how Village Voice can take such an issue and turn it into a First Amendment argument? I have no experience with this magazine, as it seems to be a New York phenomenon.

I am certain that the numbers for child sexual exploitation and trafficking are very difficult to nail down. Even if the study chided in the Voice article is flawed, so is their selective research and analysis. They should be talking to people in the field like Rachel Lloyd, founder of GEMS. Still, the dismissive way they talk about faith-based advocates reveals a philosophical agenda that doesn't give any respect to the concern over human lives being so damaged and used.

I'll have more to say on this topic soon. I'm interested to see where the Village Voice goes now after staking such a horrible position. It drove me to become more of an Ashton Kutcher fan and a follower of his on Twitter. Maybe there's a little reverse effect going on. 

My final thought is a lyric from a song from the 90's:

"Human rights have made the wrongs okay"

Slavery sucks. People need to see some of the root causes and stand for what's right.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thoughts on Christian Horror

Last week I was part of a blog tour that featured Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso, a good read that falls in the category of "supernatural suspense" in the Christian fiction (CBA) industry. I made the argument on Wednesday that it really is a horror book.

Sorry for giving that little detail away Mike. ;)


I asked why books like this are marketed with what basically amounts to a euphemism. From the comments last week, both Mike and Nicole hit it on the head.


The label of "horror" is as loaded as the label of "Christian fiction." As Nicole said, it conjures images of Stephen King and the horror movie trinity of Freddy/Michael/Jason (I take umbrage at the last one). I've only read one King novel, and didn't enjoy the things it did to my imagination. I understand he has books like The Stand that read differently from Pet Sematary. But his reputation is so strong, it is hard for him to write something else that will break through to readers other than his fan base.

Conversely, it is hard for many readers to get away from the stereotype of slasher flicks/books to open up a thoughtful book like Darkness Follows that explores the love of a father and a daughter. DF has a body count, but it is not gory or gratuitous. People die to further the plot, not to shock. Mike in his comment laments the reality of the situation, because I think (as he does) some readers who would enjoy a book like DF won't find it because it isn't labeled as horror, although he would lose more if it was marketed as horror.

It is a catch-22 inherent in the CBA industry. It is more conservative than the ABA market it parallels. For those of us who read widely or want to write for the CBA, we just have to keep this in mind. The CBA market is changing, but slowly and not without growing pains and waxing/waning.

I don't know if we'll end up with a genre of Christian horror in the CBA. Perhaps the euphemism of "supernatural suspense" is here to stay. BTW, I like a category of supernatural suspense, but I think it is too broad to do horror justice, especially since it fits books like This Present Darkness and the Left Behind series.

Thoughts? Should the CBA aspire to having a horror category someday?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

CSFF Tour - Darkness Follows Day 3

Hey! You, web surfer! Yeah you.

C'mere for a sec.

See, I'm part of the Christian Sci-fi/Fantasy Tour, and we just talked about a cool and creepy book called Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso. I talked about it Monday with an overview, and Tuesday with a review.

I don't really want to talk about it today.

Not directly, at least.

Like I said, I'm in a book tour for Christian speculative fiction. There's cool people here that like interesting books. There's an interesting aspect of this month's tour I wanted to investigate.

The book was brought to us for a speculative angle - the protaganist in modern times finds pages from a Civil War officer's journal, in his own handwriting. The book is considered in the CBA realm as "supernatural suspense."

The thing is, the book is really a horror book.

It's not horrible. Hor-ror. It is scary and spooky [insert Addam's Family theme song here]. It has a purpose in its scare factor, but it definitely has the chills factor.

It seems the CBA industry is scared of labeling books as "horror." I don't mind that a speculative fiction tour is featuring this book, it is pretty good, and I'm glad I got to read it. I think it serves a certain type of reader, and does it without some of the hopelessness found in regular horror fiction.

I don't have all the insights in this quirk of the CBA. For a better authority, I'll refer you to Mike Duran on his posts concerning "Can Horror Fiction Be 'Redemptive'" (part 1, 2, 3) and a quick discussion on covers speaking about horror here, as well as Mike Dellosso's own words in this post.

Seemed like a good time to take on this idea of the label of "horror" vs. "supernatural suspense" to a group that enjoys speculative fiction. I've read CBA books ranging from a ghost story (Robin Parrish's Nightmare, labeled as "paranormal suspense") to vampires (Eric Wilson's Jerusalem Undead series) that would fit into a horror genre in a normal bookstore, but don't get promoted that way in the CBA.

Why is that?

I have my thoughts, but what say you, the well-read and clever folks of the CSFF Tour? Let me know what you think, and I'll answer back in a few days.
Uh, to get back on track, here's where you can find all of the other fine posts on Darkness Follows from my tourmates.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

CSFF Tour - Darkness Follows Day 2

Yesterday for the CSFF Tour I introduced and gave an overview of Mike Dellosso's latest novel, Darkness Follows.

Mike writes in the category of "supernatural suspense," which basically is the CBA euphemism for horror. There are speculative elements, so the term is not totally inaccurate. Still, it is good to evaluate it in the proper viewpoint.

Strengths: The book creates a lot of tension around Sam Travis, the protaganist. Is he cracking due to his head injury? Is he having a psychiatric break, or is there an outside force working on him? Mike sets up this question in the reader's mind, and does a good job drawing it out through to the end. This is why I liken it to The Shining. He keeps the suspense bulding with this tactic effectively.

The mystery killings also set the mood. We know early on they lead to Sam somehow, but the question is dangled each time, slowly moved along, keeping the reader wondering about them. Mike was able to get me second-guessing myself, so the payoff at the end was satisfying in many ways.

Even though I compared it to The Shining, there is a deeper sense of hope. There's despair, danger, a sense of darkness, but it isn't fatalistic. It is not dark for darkness sake. If a reader has a problem with some of the nihilistic stories out there, this book doesn't have that type of effect.

Weaknesses: The early part of the book sets up enough information to catch the reader's attention, but it is a bit of a slow burn early in the book. It took a little while to fully capture me - but it did grab me and really draw me in about halfway through. This isn't a terrible weakness, but it wasn't immediately gripping.

There are a couple of plot points that don't fully pan out. One of them is too one-dimensional, not developed quite enough. Another major point comes out of left field, and left me with the thought of, "What was THAT?" I don't want to give them away, and they aren't major pitfalls, but they kept the book from the "Wow!" range.

Overall: The book is in the "that was a good read" range. I read some horror-type novels, but I don't like gratiutous violence or language. This book is not for the highly sensitive, as there is a body count and some gruesome details at times. The suspense is more on a psychological level, not a gross-out level, and that's the type of horror I can enjoy. I read his first book, The Hunted, which I enjoyed and saw his promise. I believe Mike is continuing to deliver enjoyable and thought-provoking fiction, and I can recommend Darkness Follows to fans of psychological suspense/horror and those who don't mind some chills with their entertainment.

I'm not the only voice on this tour - see what my tourmates have to say by checking Becky's blog for the latest posts. Tomorrow I want to touch on the idea of supernatural suspense vs. horror in the CBA realm.
Legal disclaimer/mumbo-jumbo: As part of the tour, I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.

Monday, June 20, 2011

CSFF Tour Day 1 - Darkness Follows

June is here. Time for campfires and spooky stories. And the CSFF Tour has the book for you.

We are featuring the latest from Mike Dellosso, Darkness Follows

Continue on with the tour, if you dare...


Sam Travis is an out of work carpenter, on disability due to a recent fall and head injury. He's struggling with his slow recovery and the natural need of a husband to provide for his wife Molly and daughter Eva.

One night he is awakened by the sounds of battle. Living near Gettysburg, the sound is not unusual due to the frequent reenactments.

Except that is November, long past the time for it.

He investigates the sounds, and it leads him to a journal written by a Union officer named Samuel Whiting. The entry speaks of darkness and death. The despair of battle.

And it is written in Sam Travis's writing.

The despair from the journals invade Sam's life. He is reminded of his dead brother Tommy, and the memories that are supposed to be locked away in the recesses of his mind. He wonders if he is dealing with complications from his accident, or if the darkness that follows Samuel Whiting is coming after him next.

As mysterious deaths pile up around the area, and an influential senator plans a major speech at Gettysburg, Sam's hold on reality is tenuous. His family is fighting for him, but he doesn't know if it is enough to keep him from doing something terrible, something calling from the darkness...

Interested? Then check out Mike's blog for more information, my faithful friends in the CSFF Tour below, and I'll have a review of the book tomorrow.

Carol Keen
Inae Kyo
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Shannon McNear
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Sarah Sawyer
Kathleen Smith
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Movie Review - Green Lantern

OK, freaks and geeks, it is the summer of the super hero!

We've already seen Marvel take two shots with Thor and X-men: First Class (enjoyed the first one, haven't seen the latter). Now it is DC Comics turn with the introduction of Green Lantern as a movie franchise.

If you're not familiar with this character, there is an intergalactic peace-keeping force called the Green Lanterns, using the energy of willpower (manifested by the color green, naturally?) to watch over the universe. There are 3600 Lanterns divided by sectors.

On a small planet in sector 2814, there is a test pilot named Hal Jordan. He is a daredevil flyboy who works as a test pilot. When the Lantern Abin Sur crashes onto Earth, the ring is commissioned to find a replacement. Hal is chosen, and he's inducted into the corps.

Green Lantern hasn't gotten good reviews from the critics (scoring poorly according to Rotten Tomatoes). Well, the critics are the critics, and not necessarily the intended audience. As an all-around geek and fan of comic books, I found Lantern to be an enjoyable summer movie and launching point for this character.

The movie does a good job of establishing Hal Jordan and his childhood friend, on and off again flame Carol Ferris. The Corps are thinly drawn. We don't get a good picture of why Abin Sur is considered so great. His close friend Sinestro is played well, but the writers don't give him the best background to set up his character either.

The plot of the movie moves along well without much down time. The slower parts set up the conflict between Hal and Carol, one of the main antagonists Hector Hammond, and Sinestro's quest for power. Some of the dialogue is wooden and forced, but the action scenes are better. Some of the previews made the CGI effects seem pretty cheesy, but they turned out well in the finished product. Even the maligned, fully-CGI rendered uniform of Green Lantern came across better than I thought it would. The comic book world openly scoffed when the first images came out. Perhaps the artists adjusted it based on the criticism, but it worked except for the face mask. Then again, looking at a comic book picture of Green Lantern, the mask looks a little silly there now!

I thought the movie was quite enjoyable. I liked Iron Man and The Dark Knight better, but it was on par with Thor. I hope people will see the movie and make up their own mind instead of going by the critics. I would like to see more movies in a series. Perhaps it could turn out like Spiderman 2. Many people didn't think the first movie was all that special, but #2 is considered one of the best superhero movies ever.

We'll see if it will be "brightest day" or "blackest night" for Green Lantern. I'm leaning toward the light.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Building a Novel

We just finished our kitchen.

Maybe "we" is a misnomer. My wife did all of the leg work to pick out everything with the design, and the contractors did the heavy lifting. I...stayed out of their hair. It was better that way.

I am not a construction type of guy. If a home improvement video says a job will take 1-2 hours, that means all day for me. So, I don't do that sort of thing unless there's no other option! This means I'm not familiar with the process of building.

It was fascinating to come home from work each day and see the layers stripped down. First the cabinets, then the old floor, then the sub-floor. The sheet rock, plaster, electrical, plumbing. The foundation wasn't the prettiest thing in the world.

Then it started changing. The sheet rock guy did the mudding, adding texture. Now there was some dynamic going on, instead of being flat. He did the basic painting, and now it seems like we're getting somewhere!

The cabinets came next, and it fleshed out everything, allowing a place for all the little things a kitchen needs. Then the counters. Now it can carry some weight.

The flooring was laid, and the path became clear. Still, the painter had to do the little touch-ups at the end to make everything finished.

I think you can see where I'm going with this...

I was taken by the relationship to building this new kitchen to building a novel. It wasn't completely brand new - the old foundation and walls were still there. However, it took a process to get to the end product, and it wasn't always apparent how it was going to turn out. The care my wife took in looking at all the options created a beautiful setting.

I know as I slowly chip away at what I want in the story, I find twists and turns. Some things don't work out as planned. Some choices make it worse. I realize I'm still in stages where it hasn't all come together yet.

It was a relief to get cabinets in, and the countertops set, but that wasn't the end point. What makes the kitchen is the little touches - the decorative pieces set into the backsplash, the glaze on the cabinets, the edging on the counters. A writer can get by with the functional pieces in place, but the novel can only reach its full potential if the time is taken to work the little details into the otherwise sturdy workmanship.

My wife is very pleased with how it came out. I'm happy for her, I enjoy the kitchen, but I'm just happy to have regular cooking again! I could have been satisfied enough with less, but it is so much more due to her vision.

I hope to keep this thought in mind as I go through the different levels of working my story.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Book Review - Nick of Time

Nick Polchak is one of the best literary characters ever.

Had to say it.

I've talked about Tim Downs before, and he is one of my favorite authors. He produces suspense fiction with wit and humor, along with some nice gory details about decomposing bodies.

This is because the protaganist of most of his novels is Dr. Nick Polchak, also known as the "Bug Man." He's a forensic entomologist, meaning he studies the insects that are drawn to corpses. It is a niche that Downs ably uses to give just enough tecnical jargon to help the reader really buy it.

Polchak also has one of the lowest social IQ's ever seen. He has a minimal filter - he says what he wants and has a great wit. The result is he is funnier than all get-out, and makes each Bug Man novel a joy to read, but a challenge to read in public (didn't want my recent airplane neighbor freaking out over my chuckling.)

In Nick of Time, it leads off of events of the Bug Man books Less the Dead and Ends of the Earth. Spoilers for those who haven't read those books - Nick is getting married! Even the clueless Dr. Polchak may have a soul mate in Alena Savard, a woman who grew up on a mountain alone with dozens of dogs that she trains.

With his wedding a week away, he is invited to a forensics conference by an old friend for a consult on a cold case. Over Alena's protests, Nick heads there only to find his friend dead.

Now he is off to find out what was happening with the cold case to see if there's a connection. Meanwhile, Alena is panicking over the lack of a groom, and with the happy date approaching, she sets off to find him - along with three of her best tracking dogs.

Nick's going to learn if he wants to be married, if it doesn't kill him first...


Downs continues a strong run in the Bug Man series. Fans will find their favorite points intact: humor, suspense, mysteries for Nick to solve, and some big twists along the way. First time readers should pick the book up just fine, despite it building off of older novels. If you can read the others first then it will make more sense, but he writes in such a way that it isn't necessary.

The plot is a little incredible at times, but Downs has this character, um, down. Nick is very enjoyable as he says the things we could never get away with, and the plot moves quickly without any slow points. Alena is a strong counterpoint to Nick, although sometimes she sounds too much like him (sarcastic, not caring what people think). Nick even has an epiphany of sorts, and it will be interesting to see where it takes him.

Nick of Time was a great read, comfortable as a well-worn pair of jeans. Prior readers won't be disappointed, and new readers should fit right in to Nick's insect world. Fans of suspense and CSI-type shows will be well-served with Tim Downs latest.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Top 5 Things to Do While Stuck in an Airport

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. 

When stuck in an airport due to weather, mechanical failures, or the pilot having hiccups, here is a list to help you pass the time.

5. Browse the Bookstores. See how many magazines you can read before you get kicked out or are forced to buy something.

4. Entertain your fellow passengers. These enterprising guys found a way to make a moving sidewalk into something more than just a people mover. If you’re brave, start a flash mob or get everyone into a sing-along.

3. Leave the secure area and go through security again. This makes them wonder, and ensures you get the full security experience if you missed it the first time.

2. People watching. The classic airport event. You can simply observe others in a subtle manner, or play games such as “Guess the Europeans” (men wearing capris is a tell-tale sign).

1. Write a blog post. You can give people hints on how the pass the time…