Monday, January 30, 2012

Freedom Sunday

There is a movement rising.

Over the last several years there has been a huge increase in awareness about the problem of human trafficking around the globe. Many groups have sprung up to take direct part in the fight to end the scourge of modern slavery. I have listed several of these on my sidebar.

One such group, Not For Sale, is organizing Freedom Sunday for another year. This started in 2010, and it has been growing among churches since.

This year Freedom Sunday is being held globally on February 26, 2012. It is not necessary to join or participate on that specific weekend, but it is a great time to come together as one voice in the body of Christ to bring freedom to the captives, and light to the oppressed.

They provide many resources that churches can use, from videos that can be shown for a quick overview, to sermon or Bible study notes, to songs that speak of justice, plus many more.

I encourage you to bring this to the attention of your church leaders. I know they have many pressing things on their plates, but remember Jesus's words, "If you do this for the least of these, you have done them to me."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Plotting By The Seat Of My Pants

Plugging away.

That's how writing goes often. Keep chopping wood. Put more words on the page.

Writers know that there are two general methods for getting a story on paper. The plotters love to outline, charting each scene and building up a framework that their words can fill in. The pantsers, so named for writing by the seat of their pants, make it up as they go.

Not quite the idea...
The plotters like knowing where they are going, having a map or blueprint to follow. The pantsers will tell you how their story can be more organic, being surprised by the twists and turns that pop up along the way.

How about a middle way?

Of course people do this all the time. You don't have to be tried and true to one method to get to "The End."

I was surprised when this started happening with me though.

I've always been an outline guy when writing papers. In college I would do my research, label it all out with Roman numerals and A. B. C., and when I was all done, write my final draft as my first draft. All done. Ready to go!

Yeah, it's not that easy when writing a novel.

Closer? I dunno...
I have a general outline in my head. I know where my protagonists need to be...eventually. I have the ending all worked out. There was just a little problem with the middle, and getting them to where they needed to be. A small issue.

I kept dealing with writer's block whenever I finished a point on my outline. Where to go next? How do I get there?

I've started doing it by the seat of my pants.

A technique that I've found effective for me is to set my phone's timer, meaning I can't browse the internet for some obscure fact that I HAVE to have for my next scene, and start writing. It might not be the best prose in the galaxy, but I have made progress.

It has been propelling me past these sticking points. I'm forced to make a decision and go with it.

And there's been some good stuff come out of it. Who would've guessed?

I still have my general outline and I still know where I want to end up. But the process of getting there has become more interesting. Hopefully it all turns out when I get there!

So if you're writing and wondering how best to do get moving - do whatever it takes. There's no need to just plot or pants it. The point is words on the page.

Time to go set my timer...

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Missions Challenge

It's Mission Monday here at Spoiled For The Ordinary.

I've just started focusing posts on Mondays toward missions, but I'm anticipating a question/comment that could come up at some point.

"You talk about foreign missions all the time, but what about the need here in the United States?"

Let me state up front that I am a big fan of the missional movement that talks about always being called on mission. Whether I am at work, enjoying the state fair, coaching on the soccer field, or chatting on the internet about my favorite video game, I believe God can use me. My life is my mission, and there's no off-duty. I want to see people around me know about the glorious freedom of the children of God. I live in an area of the United States that has a desperate need for evangelism. I don't diminish this fact.

Still, I know that if half of the people who went to Bible-believing churches in my town fully lived for Jesus, this town could be transformed. (And I am one of these who needs to fully live my life for Jesus - let me challenge myself first!) My feeling has long been that there are enough Christians in this area to do the work needed. There are at least churches here that love Jesus.

The problem is that there are so many places around the world without a Christian witness. My mission trip to Thailand was to an area that had two churches in the city - and the province. Two churches for a population of 150,000 or so. There are nations and people groups who have no reproducing witness of Christ, whether due to lack of freedom or being a hard area to witness.

There are a lot of issues that I can talk about related to this. I know that it is hard for Westerners to be effective missionaries in all areas due to risks, cost, etc., and that it is easier for native missionaries to do work in various regions. Not everyone feels called to go, and I'm generally okay with that (although there's the old Keith Green saying that the Bible tells us to GO, so we'd better have special leading from the Lord if we're staying!) However, there is a need for being enlightened about conditions and opportunities in the world.

I will talk about local missions as specifics arise, but my focus is going to be international, because we are abundantly blessed in America. Almost embarrassingly so. We can be so fat from feeding ourselves spiritually, we get lazy and forget to give to others. I'd like to do my little part in changing that.

Hard words for a Monday. What do you think about this? I'm truly interested to hear!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Adoration Of Jenna Fox

Jenna Fox can't lace her fingers together.

Her fingers look perfectly fine. They just don't go together well. A classmate tells her she has an odd walk. But she used to do ballet. At least that's what she's been told by her parents.

She can't remember it though.

Seventeen year old Jenna Fox wakes up in California, a stranger in her body. She had an accident that put her in a coma, and now she can't remember most of her previous life.

She was an only child, so her doting parents have numerous videos of her life. She's encouraged to watch them as she tries to regain what she's lost.

Jenna feels like she's not being told everything. Her grandmother who lives with them is distant and cold, unlike the loving Grandma in the videos. And when she visits her neighbor and he offers her a chance to feed the birds, they won't eat from her handful of birdseed. They only choose the neighbor.

So just who is Jenna Fox?
We all received books for Christmas in my family. The Adoration Of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson was my request. It may seem weird for a middle aged guy to want a young adult novel, but this book intrigued me with its premise of mystery in the midst of bioethics. Oh, and the cover rocks.

 It didn't disappoint.

The book is written in present tense from Jenna's point of view, which is a perfect way to tell her story - as she discovers her new life and old one, we experience it with her.

The structure is a little disjointed early on. Chapters seem random and are set apart in varying ways, not with the typical stop, blank page, and clear title and beginning into the next part. It made getting into the book a little challenging. However, it makes sense when considering Jenna's fragmented memory. Once I got into it, I wanted to discover what Jenna's secret was and how it was going to affect her. (I knew more about the plot going into it than I am giving here - I don't want it spoiled for new readers).

The book is set in a near future where there are some amazing medical advances, but with any progress comes questions and unintended consequences. Adoration does a very good job of introducing issues to think about in the framework of the story. I don't know how much it would make a teen think of bioethical issues, but as a medical professional I thought it was well done and should provoke thought. One of my favorite philosophers is Ian Malcolm from Jurrasic Park when he says, "Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should."

Adoration has humorous moments, stakes that become higher than just Jenna finding herself, and a lot of suspense. The ending may be too tidy, but it is satisfying, and it looks like Pearson managed to work a sequel into it still, The Fox Inheritance, which I haven't read yet.

I recommend this book for teens, those interested in bioethics or medical fiction, and those who like near future "what ifs". It is a good read that can provoke thinking - a crazy thing, right?

Stand Against SOPA

Monday, January 16, 2012

Egypt's Persecuted Minority

Today on Mission Monday, I wanted to highlight a group of people that trace back to the originial apostles, but are in jeopardy today of seeing their life in their homeland disappear.

Egyptian Coptic Christian
Egypt has a population of over 60 million people, the majority being Muslims. However, at least 10% of the population are Coptic Christians. Copts, as they are known, trace their faith to the generation of people who walked with Jesus. Their church split with the main Roman Catholic Church in the 5th century, but they were the main religion in Egypt until the Muslim advances in the 600's. Even living under Muslim rule, this body of believers have persevered for almost two thousand years.

Life has gotten worse for the Copts in the last several years. There have been several attacks on Christians by the Muslim majority. There is freedom of religion in the constitution, but there are many limitations in real llife. It is hard to convert and difficult to get paperwork for jobs and other things. Until recently all approvals for new church construction and even minor repairs had to be approved by the President! This has been changed, but it is still a very cumbersome process. When Christians were attacked, the police are slow to respond, and they are usually asked to simply "reconcile" with their attackers, without any other accountability.

Under the dictator Hosni Mubarak there was a measure of control, despite the attacks I mentioned. Now there is fear that things could get worse if strict Islamists are voted into office. There is an exodus of Copts now, depleting the oldest continual Christian community in the Middle East.

We don't hear a lot about their plight in the West, and the needs of fellow believers far away can be hard to remember in our busy world. That's why I want to share stories like this on Mission Mondays here. We are so blessed in the Western world. We should be able to support our brothers and sisters in Egypt in our prayers.

Thankfully, there are some positive signs as well. We know the Lord can move in mighty ways to protect His people. Here are some specific prayer requests (taken from the YWAM Personal Prayer Diary):

  • Pray that Christians will have a voice in the formation of the new Egyptian government.
  • Pray that the governments of other nations will press those in power to grant equal rights for all in Egypt.
  • Pray that Coptic priests and lay leaders would have courage and wisdom to encourage and guide their parishioners.
  • Pray that Muslims will come to know Christ through the example and love of their Christian neighbors.
Sources: YWAM Personal Prayer Diary, Wikipedia, WSJ, BBC

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Writing Your Prescription

Our regularly scheduled programming was delayed due to the family stomach flu making its presence known. After a day of being wiped out and generally useless, I figured it was time to talk about medical issues in writing.

If it hasn't come out before, I work as a physician assistant. No, I'm not still working on finishing medical school as some people ask. Being a PA is its own profession. We just were saddled with an unfortunate title when we started. Some people want us to be physician associates(?), but I digress.

Obviously it is easy for me to write medically in my fiction, and it is a great way to introduce conflict, tension, or roadblocks to my characters. For those who aren't in the medical field and want to make a medical condition a part of their book, it takes good research to make it believable. That's true for everything, but there's plenty that can go wrong in medical research. I read a novel with an astronaut who was hiding multiple sclerosis. No way would she have been able to hide such a thing, and it always bugged me when it came into play in the plot.

There's plenty to be found on the internet these days, but you do have to be careful of your sources. Someone came to me today asking about "liver stones." Google can be an enemy as much as a friend here!

I would suggest reading from reputable sources first of all. WebMD, CDC, your professional organizations like the American Heart Association - all of these would be good primary sources. If you want to address a controversial issue, look for those as well, but make sure you understand the foundation of the issue and both sides if you can.

Don't just rely on the web. Most health care providers I know would be happy to give you some advice. I would be fine answering questions, and I have asked specialists at conferences about issues that were out of my field of practice. Be respectful of their busy schedules, and I am sure you can find someone who can help you out.

One person who has a specific blog for this is Jordyn Redwood's "Redwood's Medical Edge." She is a nurse with lots of emergency and pediatric experience, and she provides regular content on medical issues, from historical medicine to current issues. Want to know how fast someone would bleed to death? She's got the info for you!

If I have one pet peeve, it is characters' getting hurt in some way, and the author forgets about it. Mary Sue just leaped from her second story window to escape the Big Bad Guy, and hurt her ankle - but she still runs away a few pages later with nary a limp. Keep it real, people!

This is a quick discussion of medical issues in fiction. There are so many avenues to explore here. If there are specific topics anyone would like me to discuss, leave them in the comments and we can have fun with those. 

Just remember to wash your hands people!

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Guide To Prayer

 Many people would like to pray for missions, other countries, and different prayer needs. Where can you find such information?

One tool I know about provides this and a whole lot more.

Youth With A Mission produces a Personal Prayer Diary each year. It comes in a nice day planner with areas for notes, calendars, articles about Kingdom issues, as well as information about every country and specific prayer highlights each month. The diary also has a Bible reading plan that takes one through the Old and New Testaments once and Psalms and Proverbs several times.

The diary also includes an encouragement to pray for the Seven Spheres of Influence that I've talked about before. Each day of the week is reserved to lift up concerns regarding Church and Religion, Family, Government and Law, Education, Science/Health/Environment, Business, and Media and the Arts.

I've used this for years, although often sporadically. This year I am committed to diligence in praying for the daily topics. I know many people are tied to their electronic devices, but this slim and durable book is a more than a planner - it has the potential to impact the world if people use it to pray for the nations.

Right now they're only $11.89 at the World Christian store, and I've seen it listed on Amazon as well. Check it out if you'd like a simple way to make a difference!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Book of the Year 2011

In my last post I listed my favorite fiction books of 2011. There was one other book that impacted me in such a way that, even though I focus on fiction, I have to highlight it for people.

Girls Like Us - by Rachel Lloyd.

It is the memoir of a young woman who had a rough upbringing, ended up being trapped in the world of sexual exploitation by a boyfriend who was also her john, and managed not only to escape the life but start a non-profit organization called GEMS that helps girls in similar situations.

It is a raw book because it is a raw topic. Rachel's story, and the examples of the girls from her charity, are real and ugly. They are stories that need telling.

I was interested in supporting the fight against human trafficking before - this book sealed it. It is a powerful read, sometimes unsettling, but never boring. There is much in our culture that lends to the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. Pornography, the idolization of pimp culture in popular music, the ways that families and social services break down and leave children vulnerable.

I talked about the book in detail here. If you didn't read it before, I hope you check out the post, but most of all the book. It is a wake-up call, and it is a significant marker in the battle against modern-day slavery.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Favorite Books of 2011

It was a strange year of reading for me.

I know I read a fair amount of books. Some just didn't stick with me. There were several books that I started and didn't finish. I'm getting picky. I don't want to waste my time reading books that don't grab me. I don't have as much patience to give a book a chance either. They'd better grab me in a few chapters at most, or I'm moving on.

When it came time to put together my favorites, I had to think a little. A couple of books aren't my usual cup of tea, but I really enjoyed them. One is considered "pulp fiction." Shouldn't a best of list be selective?

Nah. These are the fiction books I enjoyed the most in 2011.

6.  Pattern Of Wounds by J. Mark Bertrand. This is the second book in a series about Roland March, a homicide detective in Houston who almost burned out in the first book. Here he is continuing to deal with doubts about his ability even as he deals with a potential mistake in his past. I don't read a lot of the hard-boiled detective stories, but if I did, Bertrand would make me very picky, because he gets into the mindset of March so well. The story simmers, and the themes of the book are deftly handled. As I said in my July review - no sophomore slump here.

5. Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren. The first book in the River of Time series. Two teenagers are in Italy with their archeologist mother, far from any social action. When the girls enter an ancient tomb, they are thrust into 14th century times, with knights and castles. Headstrong Gabi is separated from her sister Lia, and she is rescued by Lord Marcello. Bergren has done other novels in this setting, and her research and setting is top notch. It is supposed to be a Teen fiction book, geared toward girls. I don't care. Good writing is good writing, and I'm a sucker for romance when done right.

4. Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones. After writing this post, I'm going to lose my man card. I picked this book up for my wife to read for a blog tour, but I had heard Jenny was a funny writer. I flipped through the first chapter, curious about her humor. I finished the book in a few days. Lucy needs a sponsor to save her girls' home. Former QB Alex Sinclair needs an image makeover in his race for Congress. He'll make sure Lucy's charity gets funding if she acts as his fiancee through the race. Who knew such a plot would snap me in without nary an explosion? Again, good writing is good writing. And I got a shout out from Ms. Jones, so it was all good.

3. The Resurrection by Mike Duran. OK, so I break the pattern of initials in these authors. I've referenced Mike's blog Decompose for a long time, and was excited to read his debut novel. Reverand Ian Clark is doubting his own faith, even as he struggles leading a California church. When one of his congregants, Ruby, is associated with a resurrection of a boy, he doesn't know how to take the miraculous. Ruby doesn't know why God chose her for a miracle, and the sleepy town they live in may not continue to sleep with such supernatural happenings occuring. It is suspenseful, a little creepy, and very thoughtful. Lots more on it, including an interview with Mike, here.

2. Pay Me In Flesh by K. Bennett. I think having a zombie book in here should cancel out the chick books above ;). Mallory Caine is an LA lawyer without a soul. Most people think lawyers don't have souls, but she really is undead. She doesn't look the part, but brains are her staple, along with justice for the oppressed. When she discovers a conspriracy that may be leading to Lucifer setting up his new base of operations in LA, will Mallory be able to stand up for the living and undead alike. This book reads amazingly like James Scott Bell's work, but I'm sure it is just a coincidence...

Finally, my favorite book from 2011 is:

The Monster In The Hollows by Andrew Peterson.
Andrew Peterson is just about the favored all-around creative person of Spoiled For The Ordinary. He is an amazing musician, but his YA series The Wingfeather Saga is a wonderful combination of adventure, whimsy, suspense, and heart. Monster is the third book in the series that features the Igiby children, who were once normal children, until the siblings found out they are the lost heirs of a conquered kingdom and are hunted by the terrible Fangs of Dang and a Nameless Evil (know as Gnag the Nameless). One part Princess Bride, one part lyrical language, and a dash of Lord Of The Rings equals this excellent book and series. If you don't believe me, my kids will tell you the same.

That's it for fiction in 2011. There's one other book that greatly impacted me last year, and I will share about it soon.

What books did you enjoy over the last year?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


An announcement!

I've been blogging since 2006. I've posted regularly for quite a while, but in the last half of 2011, I started struggling. I didn't always have inspiration for a post. I questioned whether I should continue with this blog, as I am working on a novel and wondered about splitting my writing time.

Friends encouraged me to continue, and I know that an author needs a presence online to help chances of publication in this brave new world of books and ebooks. Even with this, I limped to the end of the year.

Keepin' it fresh, yo?
What do I do? How to keep it fresh after 5+ years of blogging?

Good ideas are worth stealing, and I'm going to borrow an idea from my writing and geekery friend Athena Grayson and her blog. She has themed days that keeps her going with a structure and regular posts. That's what will happen here at Spoiled For The Ordinary.

1. Mission Mondays. I started this blog without much of an idea of a theme. Over time I wanted to bring out ideas and news about missions and being a world Christian. The time I spent in missions led to the title of this blog and a radical change in life for me. Now I will be deliberate with it and highlight different stories related to the mission of God's Kingdom on Mondays.

2. Writing Wednesdays. The other major focus of this blog is on writing. I talk about my writing journey, Christian fiction issues, and publishing in general. Heaven knows writing blogs are a dime a dozen out there. Still, I'm interested in the process and will continue to add my own 2 cents to the never-ending flow of words - because writers never met a word they didn't like (maybe "actually" is getting there, but I digress).

3. Free Fridays. Freedom!  I'm not limiting myself here. I can post random stuff. I'm not committing myself. There may or may not be content on Fridays. Because I am giving myself that freedom. Nuff said.

There will be breaks in this. I am a regular contributor to the Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy tour, which routinely runs Mondays through Wednesdays. This will supercede things when I participate.

I hope this helps me keep motivated and lets readers know what to expect and when to find things. I'm excited for 2012, and I want to continue on this journey with all of you. Yes, you in the back as well. Okay, even you Mark.

Here we go...