Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Dreaded Revision

H/T to Paperback Writer
There comes a time in any writer's life when they confront the dreaded beast.


I've been plugging away at my novel for so long, making slow and (sometimes) steady progress, that I haven't really confronted this issue yet.

That time came with my entry into the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest.

I had written my opening chapters years ago. I had edited them many times when trying to get unstuck, but I had never really revised them. I knew with entering the contest that I had some fatal flaws. The generic weather opening? Check. The first character has nothing to do with the main story? Check.

Since I've heard how horrible it is to revise, I didn't look forward to it, but a handy thing called a deadline forced my hand.

I sat down, hands at the keys.

It flowed.

It wasn't bad at all! In fact, I rather enjoyed it. It took me a few days to do the first two chapters, but because I had a framework to build off of, I could adjust weak links, build up strong points, and overall tighten things up and make my characters jump out more (I hope).

I guess some of it is I've learned so much in the last several years that I can see what didn't work with my initial thrust, but I could identify the kernel that did click in the writing.

I don't know if this will be true through the whole novel. I still need to finish it, so I went back to my new work. I really wanted to keep revising, because I felt a sense of accomplishment and improvement. I know that I need to get the skeleton laid down though, and come back to help put the muscles and skin on later.

Hopefully it won't be long until I get back to revising again. Does that make me strange?

Don't answer that...

P.S. In an attempt to be a little more helpful, here is a link that talks about revision.

P.P.S. You can actually buy the towel above here. You're welcome.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Twenty Seven Million

February 27.

Twenty-seven million.

The rough estimates (rough because the criminals behind this don't advertise their numbers specifically) for human trafficking are 27-30 million people around the world under some form of modern-day slavery.

The word is getting out more and more. My church joined with thousands of others yesterday for Freedom Sunday, and it was a great blessing.

There are many quality organizations out there who are doing work in various avenues to combat human trafficking. One such group is The A21 Campaign, with a specific focus on Greece and eastern Europe. A comment on their website suggests 80% of their work is awareness - letting people know about the problem and shining the light so that those who hide in the dark with this evil have no place left to cower.

To this end, A21 has partnered with one of the most well-known names in the modern worship movement - Matt and Beth Redman. Along with British hip-hop group LZ7, the Redmans have created a song called "Twenty Seven Million." The video below was shot when the song debuted at the recent Passion conference.

Today for Missions Monday I have a simple request that can raise awareness for human trafficking. Go to iTunes or Amazon and download the single "Twenty Seven Million" that debuts today in the UK and Australia, and tomorrow in the US. [UPDATE: It is now available in the US!] For the price of a Coca-Cola you can get a song that stirs the soul and lets the world know that we are growing in our knowledge and desire to fight for those who are in bondage to slavery.

Let's lift our voice for the 27 million!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CSFF Tour Day 3 - The Realms Thereunder

I left off yesterday's post with somewhat of a cliffhanger.

I was still trying to finish the book we are touring.

I received a couple of exhortations (thanks Keenan and Eve). I managed to finish this morning on the commute. No, I wasn't driving.

However, I have one more confession. I have avoided most posts on our feature book, The Realms Thereunder, by Ross Lawhead. One of the best parts of the CSFF Tour is the camaraderie and intelligent discussion on the various books. However, sometimes I find my opinion shifting in reading other blogs. I didn't want to do that this time, to see if my feeling is unique and to keep it honest.

Unfortunately, my honest opinion is that I didn't really like the book.

I wanted to. I was very excited for this tour, and jumped right into it when it arrived. Yesterday I mentioned that Ross's father is acclaimed fantasy author Stephen Lawhead. I'm a big fan of the elder Lawhead, so I knew I had some expectations going in. I tried to keep them under wraps, but I'm also giving the full disclosure here.

As with most stories, there are elements that were enjoyable. Ross is as imaginative as his father, and he pictures a series of realms connected to our own, with the passages that connected the worlds starting to open and bleed into each other. He uses an Anglo-Saxon base for his main underground realm, which is different enough from the common Celtic fantasy troupe to make it stand out, yet familiar to fantasy fans.

He uses a varied structure that others on the tour have commented on. He tells the story of Daniel and Freya both in modern times and when they were 13 and lost as schoolkids for months while in an underground realm. The back and forth of time was not difficult for me to follow.

In particular, 13 year old Freya is encouraged in an encounter with an elderly woman who acted like one of the Fates weaving everyone's destiny into a grand tapestry. The language and ideas presented there were a real high point for me.

There was just too much that distracted me from his overall story thrust. I think a major problem was that I didn't enjoy his "voice," the way he writes. This is very subjective, and his voice never won me over. We've all had authors we love, but when we recommend them to friends, we are disappointed when they don't enjoy it as much as we do. That may be the main problem, so take it for what it is worth.

Other aspects of the writing were more objectively an issue for me. He shifted point of view between his main characters all the time. I've heard many say this is something only another writer would complain about, but I've seen omniscient POV done in such a way it wasn't a distraction, but it constantly threw me here. There were large sections of the book that I don't feel added much to the story progression or world-building. I would argue that some of these sections could be curtailed and tighten the flow of the plot. Perhaps they become significant in later books, but I didn't detect any of that occuring.

I didn't even have much empathy for the characters. They were not developed deep enough, so I didn't have much connection to them.

It disappoints me to give a negative review. I enjoy fantasy and I really wanted to like this book. I also feel that an honest opinion is better than papering over my differences with the book to go along with the crowd. I hope any readers today will check out Becky Miller's blog, where she keeps tabs on all of the posts for this tour, and read what others are saying. I am only one voice, and I plan on checking them out now myself.

Legal Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book without obligation for a positive review in return, which I think is evident.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CSFF Tour Day 2 - The Realms Thereunder

Welcome back for day 2 of the CSFF Tour featuring The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead.

I introduced the book yesterday, and mentioned the author may have a familiar name to speculative fiction fans. Ross Lawhead is the son of Stephen Lawhead.

I wondered in approaching this tour whether having a famous name and a legacy would be a help or a hinderance to an author. I suspect it is a little of both. I came to Ross's book expecting some mythical elements (this is the first in the Ancient Earths trilogy, so I was justified), but I tried to come to the book without expectations of it being a Mini-Me experience.
I tried to resist...

 Ross has his own body of work already. He has collaborated with his dad on another book as well as Hero, a comic book adaptation of a modern day retelling of the gospel. As you can tell by his attire in the above picture, he enjoys his comics. Nothing wrong with that on this blog!

So what does this speak for The Realms Thereunder? Well, I'm not sure. Still working on finishing the book!

I know, that's so rare for me to be racing to finish in time for the tour...

In the meantime, Becky Miller always keeps tabs on all the other posts for the tour, so check her link out here. I will endeavor to bring you a review tomorrow.

I'd better get moving. Pages, I mean.


Monday, February 20, 2012

CSFF Tour Day 1 - The Realms Thereunder

Welcome back to the CSFF Blog Tour, the premiere blog resource for Christian science fiction and fantasy. I've missed delving into the mysterious and speculative side of faith-based fiction, so I am excited to have the Tour back.

We're featuring a new book with a name that may seem familiar...

In the isles of Britain there are connections to an underground, unseen world, protected by knights who slumber. No one knows about this long-forgotten realm.

Except for Freya Reynolds and Daniel Tully.

As youth they stumbled into an adventure that shaped and scarred them. As adults they have gone their separate ways, with Freya studying at Oxford and battling OCD, while Daniel is homeless and waging a war against a foe that he hoped never to see again.

They had hoped the forces from their first journey were behind them. Now they are awakening and finding strength enough to cross into our world. Now Freya and Daniel will have to find a way to re-engage and confront worlds they left behind. Places that are The Realms Thereunder.

This is the first in the Ancient Earth Trilogy by Ross Lawhead. I'll talk more about the author tomorrow.

But don't go anywhere! Well, if you're going to go, check out one of my tourmates below. They'll tell you more, I'm sure.
Note: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Gillian Adams
Red Bissell
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
 Melissa Carswell
Jeff Chapman
 CSFF Blog Tour
Theresa Dunlap
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
 Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
 Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
 Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
 Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirriam Neal
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Joan Nienhuis
Crista Richey
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White
Rachel Wyant

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Losing The Flow

I put a novel down the other day.

It happens all the time to each of us. We start reading a novel, excited for the promise of a good read. Then we get into it and the book doesn't grab us. We give it a little while to see if it improves. At a certain point, we realize there are too many stories out there to waste time with one that we don't enjoy. So the book gets laid by the wayside.

My disappointment was that I had really enjoyed the three previous books in the series. The first one had been one of my favorite books I read that year.

The author released three books in the series, but then was dropped by the publisher. There were plans for up to seven books, I believe. The author had a long layoff before a home for book four was found, with a smaller press.

I finally got book four, and I enjoyed the author's descriptions and certain aspects of the writing from before. Unfortunately there were a lot of problems with the writing. It wasn't tight. It hopped all around regarding perspective. There was no struggle for the protagonist. He was becoming an alcoholic, but it was muted, and life just went on. There was an overarching conflict through the first three books that was alluded to once in the first 150 pages, but it was never introduced to grab continuing readers.

Overall I was very disappointed to give up on the book. I wanted to see the author succeed, but I couldn't keep on. I was lost.

I've been pondering this since I put it down. What caused the author to lose me as a reader when I had been hooked before?

Here's a few thoughts in random order (meaning as they pop into my brain):

  1. The author was with a smaller publisher that didn't give him good editorial support.
  2. The author lost track of the story flow with the time layoff.
  3. I've changed as a reader and just don't jive with this author anymore.
  4. The story wasn't that good originally.
I'm leaning toward #1 being the major cause, with #3 being secondary. I know some of the stuff that is bothering me are things only a writer would probably notice. The author loves to use a lot of similie and metaphor to bring points across. Used sparingly it works, but when he does it all the time it makes it hard to read. I thnk the book loses track of some of the central conflict as well.

It is too bad. I might try to finish it, but I have an ever growing to-be-read pile. I wish I loved this latest book, but I am trying to take lessons from it all the same.
What about you? Are there any series you stopped reading because the author lost track of whatever made the books good? How can authors avoid this trap?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Culinary Missions

I like hanging out with missionaries.

I admire anyone who puts their life on the line for what they believe. Now, they may not be risking life and limb directly, but the temptation to live the typical American (or Western) life is so great that they are making a distinct sacrifice. It encourages and enlivens me in my walk with the Lord.

Now, before this post gets off on high and lofty ideals, let me change directions.

Missionary stories inevitably end up talking about food.

There is a wide world out there, and there are so many foods throughout the world that every person with cross-cultural experience eventually has a food story.

These are some of the most entertaining stories you will hear.

They usually deal with some outrageous culinary item that a Westerner can't fathom eating. The classic story involves balut, a fertilized duck or chicken egg that has been left in the sun for several days before serving. It is common in the Philippines especially, but I haven't had the honor.

This will probably be the grossest picture ever on this blog
I spent two months in Thailand, so we did have our share of food adventures. The street vendors made wonderful fresh smoothies, but we could only drink them if we ordered them mai sik glua, "no salt". They packed them with so much salt it was undrinkable to our taste buds. Why? I don't know. This was a tame one, to be sure.

Australia promised to be calmer, despite the reputation of Vegemite. But I made some Filipino friends there, and those sneaky guys got me eating fermented shrimp eggs. Bagoong if you're curious.

My mission experience was all with Youth With A Mission (YWAM), and if you get some YWAMers together, we will eventually come around to the various horrendous/unbelievable/crazy foods we encountered. Usually during dinner. Non-YWAMers in the group didn't finish their meals, typically.

It is fun to talk about it, but it does come back to humility and laying down our rights. When we are willing to accept someone else's hospitality and try something that doesn't come naturally to us (some things were most unnatural!), it is a dying to self. Missionaries risk offending the very people they came to serve, so more often than not, it is down the hatch.

So here's a light-hearted Mission Monday. To all the missionaries who have had to swallow something they never thought should be made into a food product - you are showing in a small way sacrificial love.

And guts.

By the way, that probably was what you were eating...

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

"B" Your Character

Sometimes you just need to know when to shut up and let others talk.

There was an excellent article today on Novel Rocket about characterization by Cindy Woodsmall. She has four "B"s to use: Before. Behind. Between. Begin.

This is a succinct yet very insightful way to understand your characters. Here is a quote:

Begin your novel armed with the full knowledge of who your characters are - the before, the behind, and the between. Then ask yourself, what would this person do - how would he or she react - when caught in the emotional or physical destruction in which your plotting places them? Once you've completed these steps, you won't have to know the answer to how they would react when placed in different circumstances. The character - who that person is - will dictate what he or she will do in any given situation. Each character will be true to himself or herself, because you know who they are and from where they have come.

I've got nothing to add. Just go read the article. If you're a writer, you'll be glad you did!

Monday, February 06, 2012


Did you know that the best numbers for modern-day slavery come up with a figure of 27 million people in bondages?

The scourge of human trafficking is alive and well around the world, from brothels in southeast Asia to brick mills in India, from indentured servitude in Middle Eastern countries to a sexually-exploited youth or economic slave in the USA.

It is a passion of mine to see this problem overcome, and I will work to get the word out on the problem and ways to make a difference.

International Justice Mission is one organization that works with countries to enforce laws within that country to help victims find freedom from illegal activities. Pretty much every country has laws against slavery, but if there is no one willing to prosecute or investigate, traffickers can have free reign. IJM assists in this particular area, along with aftercare for victims and educating lawmakers and enforcers.

They are holding a campaign to get 27,000 signatures for a petition to President Obama - one signature standing in for 1000 victims of slavery. The letter asks him to take four actions to help in the fight:
1. Taking a stand by mentioning it in his 2012 U.N. address.
2. Working to get slavery out of U.S. supply chains.
3. Providing diplomatic support for other countries' efforts to combat trafficking.
4. Making sure we fund the fight to support efforts.

They are close to their goal. I am asking readers of this blog to take a few minutes from your day to click on the banner below and sign the letter. It is a simple act to stand with the oppressed, and it will help keep the U.S. in the forefront of the battle.

Thank you!
Sign Your Name Stand For Freedom

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Back To The Beginning

Always listen to Vizzini
I am going back to the beginning.

I've been working on my novel for seven years. (Arrgh, has it been that long?) It has been interrupted by real life on a few occasions. It has survived attempts to abort, to give up, or just plain old neglect. It has sat in my head, asking to come out. Politely, most of the time. (Don't ask about the other times.)

I've kept reading, studying, and yes, writing over that time. I've stuck with it, and I have a strong committment to finish this year. I've written more in the last few months than I have in...well, ever. If I never get published, I will not be a writer who "started a novel" but never finishes one.

Part of my motivation is entering a writing contest that will critique the first 15 pages. If it does well, they may want more. I guess I should have *more* to offer, so it is a deadline of sorts.

In one sense, my first 15 pages are tight. I've read them over and over, cut unnecessary words, and edited them to death. There's still a problem though.

It is the earliest stuff I wrote for this book.

I've learned a lot since then. I knew that I should rework some of it, and planned to do it in the revision process. People who have critiqued me gave suggestions, and I realized there needed to be improvement.

This recent blog post from James Scott Bell hit it home for me. He talks about the importance of the first impression, and lists four things that he said should be avoided at all cost. I had two in my first couple of pages.


It is hard to go back and axe something that's been with me since the start. I've read my opening over and over. I've polished them as much as I can - but I never made any significant edit to the substance. It might be polished, but it's not gold, so who cares.

I knew revision would be hard, but I had put that off as something down the road. "Cross that bridge when I get there." Well, the water's up to my chest, so I'd better back up and get on the straight and narrow. I wrote something that was amateurish. Hard to admit, but I think if I picked up my book on the shelf with the current opening, I'd probably put it down.

So here we go. Time to go back to the beginning.

The clip below will show where my mind was when writing this post, and explain the picture for those who didn't get it. I'm a geek, I know...

Have you had something in your story for a long time you finally had to kill?