Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Monsters Within - A CSFF Tour Special Report

We've come to the darkness.

I've challenged people if they have what it takes to read Night Of The Living Dead Christian. I've explained the book (as best I can) and asked people to share their inner monster. What is the point of all of this monster lore, and how does it relate to Christianity?

Matt Mikalatos wrote a funny book to make the medicine go down better. He's a smiling Mary Poppins. But we need to see that as Christians, we often have a monster form that we take.

What is a monster? Generally it is anything outside of the norm for a creature. Whether it is a cross of types (like a werewolf or Sasquatch) or a perverted form (vampire, zombie), it is a recognition that something is not right. The person is not who they seem to be.

How many Christians can attest to the fact they don't live up to the transformed life that we are supposed to have in Christ? How many of us are comfortable admitting that even though we have the Holy Spirit dwelling with us, we wrest control and try to make our lives something of our own?

We live in delusion if we don't see that there are monsters we each battle.

Matt manages to use this as an allegory on helping us to find transformation in the blood of Jesus, and nothing more.

The zombies in his story are Christians who have mindlessly followed a leader and have no life in themselves, thus becoming undead. The vampire Lara was wounded by her ex-husband so much that she had to start stealing life from others to feel alive. Luther the werewolf realizes that he has an animal side with lusts of the flesh he can't control. One of the tragic moments in the book is when Luther dresses up very nice and meets with his estranged wife. Only his tail is showing, his teeth are long, and his fur has to be brushed. He tries to accept the wolf part of him and dress it up as acceptable.

Needless to say, it doesn't go well.

How many of us have tried to deny the animal desires, only to fail when we are tired, stressed, or challenged by a strong temptation?

Thus the monster motif is a perfect vehicle for challenging Church, Christians, and ultimately ourselves. Before I read Night I preached a sermon last October called "Escaping the Zombie Life." In going for a catchy opening, I ended up using a zombie theme throughout the message discussing how Paul identifies our struggles to be holy in Romans 7, and how dying to ourselves and walking in the life of the Spirit in Romans 8 is the answer if we can remember to die each day. Matt takes a similar idea and runs with it in a way that convicts and entertains.

This book is not for everyone. People need a certain sense of humor to really get into it. It fits me to a tee, but someone who has a different humor or are too serious may not appreciate it. It appeals to a younger demographic that is used to The Walking Dead and the Twilight phenomena, but that doesn't mean older people can't enjoy it. It is a novel, but not quite. It is a spoof-y (is that a word) Pilgrim's Progress.

It is a book that has a powerful message in a tortilla wrap of fun (it is close to lunch, sorry).

And for those who commented yesterday in my monster quiz and want to know what kind of monster I am? I'm part mad scientist/part cyborg with a little dash of lyncanthropy for some zing. I can trust too much in my intelligence, I can be cold to what people feel at times, and I can't always keep the beast tamed on my own.

It is not fun to admit, but it does help me recognize that I have a need for a Savior that does not end with a prayer or by Sunday perfect attendance. It is daily saying to Jesus, as Matt's werewolf friend does in the book, "I am Your servant."

There's more at Becky Miller's blog, where she updates all posts for the tour. Hurry on over and see what others are saying.

Also, I should disclose that I was sent a review copy from the publisher. Any and all silliness is solely my own.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Monsters Aren't Imaginary - A CSFF Tour Special Report

Yesterday I asked if you were ready.

If you're back today, I'm assuming you are.

The CSFF Tour is featuring a book with a very intriguing title. Night Of The Living Dead Christian.

You'd think it would be the most interesting book we've ever featured. However, it has to settle for a tie.
The tie is with a book called My Imaginary Jesus (known then as Imaginary Jesus), which features time travel, sledding mishaps, and talking donkeys chasing after the real Jesus among a multitude of fake ones.

Oh, and they're both by the same warped mind: Matt Mikalatos*.

These books are unique. They are fiction, but the main character is Matt himself, inserted into a wacky world where anything can happen. They preach more than any other novel you'll read this year, but they are so fun you won't really notice. Matt manages to poke fun and satirize the Church, our religious goofiness, and himself whle making the reader laugh. Then the reader will be asking what kind of monster they could be.

In Night Of The Living Dead Christian, intrepid Matt is the lone Neighborhood Watchman for his street. After happening upon a mad scientist, his android sidekick, and a horde of zombies, he finally ends up doing something interesting.

He meets a Lutheran werewolf. His name: Luther Anne Martin.

Luther seems like a perfectly decent fellow. Other than he's a Lutheran but not a Christian. He has a wife and daughter. But they've moved out because Luther has an itch he can't quite scratch. At least, not in his human form.

Lycanthropes have much sharper claws with which to itch.

Matt, being the helpful fellow he is, and being stuck in his own story, tries to help Luther make a transformation for good rather than evil. Along the way they dodge well-dressed zombies, a reluctant vampire, and Matt's pregnant wife in their quest.

Confused? Yeah, you're just going to have to read it.

I'll have more on the meat of the story tomorrow, but how about a fun little quiz? What type of monster would you be out of the list below? Leave a comment explaining your choice. I promise I'll...try to think up something clever for the type that gets the most votes. [And Matt has even provided a guide to help your choice. Sweet!]

  • Vampire
  • Werewolf
  • Gargantuan
  • Mummy
  • Invisible Person
  • Mad Scientist
  • Troll
  • Robot (Androids and Cyborgs count too)
  • Sasquatches
  • Troll
  • Zombie

For even more interactive fun, Becky Miller lists all the current posts for the CSFF Tour at her website. So hurry on over and see what others are saying.

*Nobody noticed my dangling asterix. When I crossed through warped in describing Matt, I realized it takes one to know one...

Monday, March 26, 2012

There Be Monsters Here - A CSFF Tour Special Report

There are some things best left unexplored.

Do you really want to know what is behind the spooky door in the basement of the old abandoned house at the end of the street?

Do you really want to split up from your group in foggy woods on an otherwise warm summer night?

Do you really want to know what truly lives under your skin?

If you can imagine...

If you dare...

You might be ready for Night Of The Living Dead Christian.

But don't say I didn't warn you.

Because right now, I just warned you. See that up there? That's a warning. So, you've been warned, and you can't say otherwise.

If you think this post is silly, then you might just be ready for Night Of The Living Dead Christian.

If you have contemplated what it means to be transformed (and I'm not talking about robot cars and more than meets the eye), if you want more from your life, and are tired of stuggling to become holy on your own...

Then you might be ready for Night Of The Living Dead Christian.

And if you want to see if other people are being less cryptic than me, check below:

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Theresa Dunlap
Amber French
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White
Dave Wilson

27 Million Music Video

This Mission Monday is a reminder of the "27 Million" song from Matt Redman and LZ7. Check out what this song means and I'll have more next Monday in follow up.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Fan Letter

Dear BioWare,

This is coming from a long-time fan. You captured my attention with KotOR, and I have been a loyal fan since. It has been quite a ride over the last nine years, and even more so over the last three weeks. I wanted to share my thoughts away from some of the heat, so here we are.

I stand with the people who thought the ending was a head-scratching moment, to say the least. But more on that in a minute. I haven't seen many posts that shared what went right with the whole Mass Effect series.

For years my favorite game was KotOR, and I didn't think another game could supplant that epic landmark in my heart. Mass Effect came very close, and if I'm honest, it probably did. Mass Effect 2 certainly took the spot and became a standard of both exciting gameplay and compelling storytellling for me. With that pedigree, Mass Effect 3 had huge expectations to live up to, but I had confidence that it would be met because I have seen BioWare rise to the challenge over and over again.

ME3 hit the sweet spot of combat for the series. No longer could I duck behind some cover and just warp and overload away. I had to move and plan for the most part. I loved the fact that my Vanguard could tote an assault rifle, and I kept my load light to let my powers recharge and blast the Reapers and Cerberus with my biotic awesomeness. I don't think I've ever faced a boss battle like the mission to protect the missile launchers in London. You had me standing up and my hands shaking on the controller trying to finish the waves of nastiness swamping my Shepard.

Still, the hallmark of a BioWare game, and the reason I keep coming back is the engrossing storyline and characters. I remember daydreaming of KotOR before it came out, wondering how I would play it and thinking about the characters of Bastila and Jolee. Mass Effect drew me in even deeper, and I loved how I paused over killing or saving the rachni queen in ME1. The varied cast in ME2 was mostly a joy, and I couldn't wait to finish a mission and hang out with Joker or Mordin. I think every spaceship should have a Scottish engineer.

ME3 raised the stakes tremendously. The gravity of the situation was carried through the story. I couldn't believe the scope of Tuchanka and all that took place there. I thought the ME2 characters were brought back in memorable ways. At first I thought Thane was getting the shift, but how noble to have him come through with the Cerberus attack.

I could go on, but the point is that there is so much that I think the whole Mass Effect series got right. It improved throughout the years, and ME3 really takes it to another level. The voice acting you recruited for the series was so remarkable. I have to give a shout out to Jennifer Hale, because I am a dude who is a loyal FemShep fan due to her amazing performance (and it is so nailed in ME3). Mark Meer, I didn't realize until yesterday that you did Mordin. That is excellent work right there too.

All the pieces fit together so well through the series. I know that y'all have been beat up by sectors of the fandom, and that is the price of doing business in the digital age - having immediacy with your customers for good and ill. So I did want it known that this 38 year old gamer saw so much to celebrate in all the games, especially ME3.

Hopefully, a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. Because I think the ending was a bit of a train wreck.

I am disappointed for your sakes as much as I am frustrated that it was an unsatisfying ending. To work so hard and swing for the fences, and have it crash with the fans is certainly disheartening. It should be the crowning moment for BioWare, but it might feel more like a taking to the woodshed.

I'm not sure what the intention was for the end. As a writer, I know it is important that you communicate your point throughout your work. Certainly there are times where Deep Thoughts (TM) can be missed by many people, but if so many people missed out on what was intended, then what you thought would work ultimately didn't.

Was it the grand idea of "The Shepard" and being a legend? If so it jumped from the immediate to the Big Idea without near enough build up. Is the Indoctrination Theory correct? I've read thoughts on this from other gamers. If the God-child (I prefer "AstroBoy", but God-child seems to be what fans have settled on) is really the Reapers last attempt to stop Shepard, that could be an epic twist of an ending. I would have to admit it would be amazing - if it was set up enough. I don't think either option here was developed or foreshadowed enough to make it resonate as valid for the majority of the gamers. Also, the main ME3 story didn't make much of the human Reaper from ME2. It made the Collector mission seem like an interlude between 1 and 3 (even if 2 was so enjoyable).

(A quick aside: I thought the idea of "slow-motion" walking was thoroughly panned from KotOR with the underwater and space walks. We don't like these slow walks that don't accomplish anything. Geth ship and last Citadel walk, I'm looking at you.)

These are my thoughts. I have to applaud you for so much that went right. I have to be honest that the ending didn't live up to the series. Still, I have been impressed with the interaction with fans since the outcry came out. Many companies would not worry about it, but it seems there is the recognition that interacting with the people is important.

So many are talking about the DLC and what BioWare can do for the ending. I always viewed DLC as a way to continue the game experience, and I appreciated getting fresh adventures for ME1 and 2. If a further ending or "real" ending was always planned as DLC I would not appreciate that, but I don't really believe that was the plan. If it was the plan, then my opinion of BioWare would be diminished quite a bit.

 If BioWare does something extra for the ending I would appreciate it. I don't believe there has to be a happy ending - I knew it would be hard to bring something meaningful where Shepard survives. What would Shepard do after being such an epic figure? I just think the ending should have been something that wasn't lost in the translation.

This is a long opinion without editing for good blog reading. It is my thoughts, and I hope it communicates my points: Mass Effect was an awesome experience of gaming and story that I loved for the vast majority of the time. The ending crashed, but after the first couple of days it doesn't bother me. At first I did think, "Why do another playthrough if things don't change?" I don't think that now. I hope BioWare continues to bring new concepts and quality writing to the gaming world. In some ways I think the Mass Effect universe is more compelling than the Star Wars universe, so I would definitely enjoy more adventures here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gotta Stick The Ending

So, remember my last writing post from a week ago?

I talked about looking for good stories in any medium and learning from them. My specific example was the Mass Effect video game series from BioWare. For entertainment and thought-provoking story, I have never seen a video game like Mass Effect 3.

And then I finished the game.


*crickets chirped*

Almost literally, it seemed like that happened. I didn't get it. I didn't see that coming. The ending of the game, and of a five year, three game-spanning story, didn't make sense. I sat in my living room, thinking "Huh?"

There is a lot of talk on game websites about this, and don't even try to find a impartial opinion on the BioWare forums. I've seen long analyses trying to prove some theory or another from passionate gamers. Some say there is a point to the ending and it is so genius only the truly enlightened get it (kidding).

Well, this isn't a game post. It is a writing post. What is the writing lesson to take from this?

Remeber this? If not, I'm getting old.
You've got to stick the ending.

Your writing can be brilliant. The prose can sparkle and move a reader to tears. The characters seem like living people you want to go get a beer with afterwards. The plot can shock and amaze with the suspense and tension. It can be the new Great American Novel...

As long as you nail the finish.

My disclaimer: I haven't finished my novel yet. I have not proven that I can stick it. But I know not sticking it when I see it.

  • a deus ex machina that comes from nowhere
  • new ideas that were never foreshadowed, or only fainly done
  • a new character at the last minute who is very important
  • contradicting established character traits or identities
  • convenient glowing God-child telling the protagonist to do something wacky (this last one is a little more specific to ME3)
Writing a novel is hard. It takes skill and dedication to see an imagined world through to the end. Let it end well. Make sure you don't lose focus.

The Matrix was remarkable when it came out back in 1999. Then came The Matrix Reloaded and everybody did a double-take. It sullied the first movie. Same with the Pirates Of The Caribbean  movies - the first one is widely loved, the second one was a little iffy, and the third was "what was the writer and director smoking?"

The Mass Effect story from 1 through 3 should take an average gamer 120 hours to finish (I know, sad). For 119.75 hours it was awesome. The last 15 minutes was like a plane crashing on the tarmac after a long, successful journey.

My take-home lesson: look very carefully at how I'm ending. If I'm taking the reader for a ride, I want them to get to their destination. I'm not saying the ending has to be happy or can't be tragic, but it can't feel like the tail of the plane ripped off, sucking the poor reader out into the atmosphere.

What about you? Have you read a book or seen a movie that was great all the way until the ending? Share your examples so we can all learn from them!

Monday, March 19, 2012

I'm Not Here Today!

Today is normally Mission Monday at Spoiled For The Ordinary, but I have a different mission for you today.

I wrote a guest post for Redwood's Medical Edge, a great blogging resource for writers by author and RN Jordyn Redwood. We connected a couple months ago in the blogosphere and it worked out that I could contribute an article on the difference between mid-level health care providers, like physician assistants and nurse practitioners. There can be a lot of added conflict if you use a mid-level in your story, but I'll let you read the article over there for full effect. Thanks for hosting me Jordyn!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Good Writing Can Be Anywhere

Stories need memorable characters.

Imagine a conflicted alien scientist who had to help virtually sterilize another violent race, but he likes to sing Gilbert and Sullivan. There's a mercenary from that same violent race who is forced into leadership over his world. An operative for a pro-human extremist group was genetically designed from the ground up. A prisoner on a convict ship that was experimented on by said group is also on your team.

Stories also need conflict. The characters mentioned above are rich with conflict potential, and it doesn't disappoint.

Oh yeah, the main character has to save the galaxy as well.

With high stakes, plenty of suspense, intriguing characters, and a well-crafted story, it sounds like a winner of a book, doesn't it?

The only problem is that it is not a book.

Writers need to recognize what works from a story standpoint in anything they see. Certainly lots of reading is the primary way to accomplish that, but having a keen eye during TV shows and movies can help as well.

How about video games?

Gaming is a medium that may not get recognized for good writing like a quality book or an exciting movie.

However, there's a company that has its reputation based on engaging characters, moral dilemnas, and plots with twists and suspense galore. It's called BioWare, and the funny thing is it was founded by two doctors.

The story I was describing is the Mass Effect trilogy. Number 3 just came out and sucked up all of my free time (and even some non-free time) last week. It has the requisite shooting aliens and whatnot, but what keeps me coming back is the story and seeing what will happen. The consequences in the third game are dire as the aliens have fully invaded the galaxy, and there are sacrifices characters have to make to help Commander Sheperd (your character) fight them off.

Mass Effect is also like a great Choose Your Own Adventure story, as you get to direct how the main character will do things. I enjoyed those books as a child growing up, but there's more that can be done with the cinematics of a video game.

So this is a geeky writing post. Yes, I'm enjoying blasting the bad guys. However, I'm so invested in the characters and storyline I almost take it personally. "THIS bullet is for Ashley, and this one is for the boy on the evacuation shuttle you shot down..."

The take home point? Watch for good writing wherever you are, and see what you can learn from it. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a performance to watch.

Monday, March 12, 2012

You Have To Get There

I woke up on the bus, looked out the front window, and jumped when I saw the vehicle careening toward us.

About then I figured we weren't in Kansas anymore.

When you're on a mission trip there are two things that are inevitable: crazy food stories and travel adventures. You have to get there, and you have to eat.

Going to Thailand from Lakeside, Montana was an adventure in itself. Kalispell -> Spokane -> Seattle -> Tokyo -> Bangkok. Eleven hours to Tokyo and another nine to Bangkok. That's some serious seat time.

Too bad Bangkok wasn't our destination.

We were heading to Chanthaburi, a town about 5 hours away by bus (I've heard there's a new highway and it's only 3 hours - nice!). When the mission leaders met us at the airport, they talked to us and refreshed us with some fruit (got another food story there, maybe another time). We then loaded the bus around 1 or 2 am local time. The excitement from hitting the ground ended, and we all crashed.

That leads us to my near panic attack.

I was on the very back seat lying down. I had the view straight down the aisle when I awoke. The bus was passing another vehicle, and I was freaked out when I saw another car coming right at us. This wasn't hundreds of yards away, mind you. We swerved back just before the car sped by.

Remember the line in Pirates of the Carribean (the first one that was really good, not the crappy sequels) when Barbossa tells Elizabeth that the Pirate Code is more like guidelines than actual laws?

Yeah, that's Thai driving laws too.

I held on for dear life the rest of the way.

Watch out for bumps!
 And this was a nice bus. It wasn't one of those Asian ones with people hanging out the back or riding on top (been on those too).

I also rode as the third person on a motorcycle built for two, and almost fell out of a Thai version of an El Camino, except the back was the size of a Toyota Corolla. Good times.

I know other missionary friends that have hiked over scary suspension bridges, climbed mountains, and ridden elephants, all in the pursuit of reaching people they want to help. My experiences are tame compared to some stories I've heard.

They say life isn't just a destination, but it's a journey as well. Sometimes the journey is all the adventure you need!

Monday, March 05, 2012


It's Mission Monday again here. I've discussed before how I am a believer in foreign missions. However, I know there is a great need for outreach here in the United States.

One of my heroes was Rich Mullins, a Christian singer who died in a car crash in 1997. He could have been living a very comfortable life in Nashville as a popular musician and songwriter. Instead, at the time of his death he was living on a Native American reservation in the Southwest to help spread the gospel to children through music. He didn't just support a cause with prayers or money, he lived it.

I live next to the Shoshone-Bannock Reservation in southeast Idaho. It is a poor place with a lot of needs. I know that some of the poorest in the country are Native Americans.

I've found a few links to ministries or agencies that work specifically with Native Americans. I'm not endorsing them, but they are a place to start if God is speaking to your heart on helping this unreached people group within our own borders.

These are just a few suggestions. I hope this will touch someone's heart to find a way to be a blessing to the various Native Americans tribes in the country.