Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CSFF Tour Day 3 - The Telling by Mike Duran

I left off last time on our CSFF tour feature of The Telling by Mike Duran with a teaser. I reviewed the book, but didn't address the main idea of the book.

That requires a post of its own.

Mike's main character has a gift he calls "the Telling." It is basically prophecy - he gets words for people or others. It often comes with a physical sensation that makes him sick.

Prophecy isn't controversial, is it?

The problem in the book is the ninth gate of hell that happens to be nearby and is threatening to take over the small California town of Endurance.

A gate of hell isn't controversial, is it?

The demons that infiltrate Endurance make copies of people's bodies, creepy doppelgangers that know the person's every thought and desire.

That isn't controversial, is it?

None of this would be controversial if it weren't in the Christian fiction arena. The thing that could make it very risky is that there is a clear representation of faith and needing God's touch in the midst of more unorthodox aspects of the story.

I don't want to spoil the story, but needless to say Zeph Walker has some issues since he has a huge scar marring his mouth inflicted by a psychotic stepmother. After being hurt, he stopped using the Telling - or it left him. Either way, there's a theme of finding your way back to faith. The tagline for the book is awesome: A prophet never loses his calling, only his way.

So the theme of coming back is a decidedly Christian one. However, since The Telling mixes God with mythical gates of hell, demons that don't possess but make really good paper mache copies of people, strange demon fighters, and a blend of science and the occult - is it truly Christian fiction?

I say yes.

I don't believe a novel has to be orthodox to be Christian fiction. Maybe it comes from too much familiarity with Mike Duran - I know that he loves Jesus and loves the Church and the Word. But we have a huge precedent with C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia. Witches and talking horses and all sorts of magic run through the story, yet all but the most conservative of Christians accept it as one of the prime examples of exemplary Christian fiction. Even though J.R.R. Tolkien didn't claim to be writing Christian fiction with The Lord Of The Rings, it is still considered a more veiled version of Narnia.

I know others will disagree. We had a fine gentleman with good thoughts leave the CSFF because too many stories we featured weren't orthodox enough for him. So whose orthodoxy will we use? In mine, prophecy is good to go, but other Christians won't agree to that at all. This will continue to be an issue no matter what we do.

I wish I had been able to visit the other blogs on the tour and see the chatter. Unfortunately between computer glitches and backed-up sewer lines in basements (honey, let's do a spontaneous renovation of the downstairs) I haven't seen much of anything. I aim to fix that and check out the opinions, because I'm sure this is going to be an interesting conversation. As always, our stalwart leader Becky Miller keeps up with the latest and greatest posts of the tour.

CSFF Tour Day 2 - The Telling by Mike Duran

The CSFF is featuring Mike Duran and his latest book The Telling.

Like I mentioned yesterday, I met Mike at the ACFW Conference this last weekend and we talked a few times. When I mentioned the tour for his book, he told me to be honest with my opinion. Mike has posted about the lack of real critique in Christian fiction circles before, so it didn't surprise me that he said to go for it.

But first, what is The Telling?

Zeph Walker is a disfigured loner in the town of Endurance, on the edge of Death Valley. Hiding out on his property, his only real contact with people is in his dilapidated Book Swap store. His hideous scar, stretching from his nose across his mouth to his chin, has earned him the name Zipperface.

But Zeph has not always been like this. He used to have The Telling. He would know things about people, situations, events. He turned his back on this gift long ago.

When two law enforcement agents show him a body in the morgue that is a carbon copy of himself, he begins to be drawn in to a mystery that has been brewing underground for years. For Endurance is known for being the location of one of the nine mythical gates of hell.

As Zeph meets new friends that are also finding suspicious things going on in their little town, a choice is presented. Face the threat and face the past, or succumb to the evil lurking in the abandoned mine nearby.


As you can see, Mike Duran does not lack for imagination. When he announced his tagline on his blog: "A disfigured prophet must rise up to close one of the nine mythical gates of hell," I knew we were in for a ride.

Mike has a distinct style. He writes supernatural fiction, dealing with the elements of angels, demons, spirits, and the ragged edge of faith. However, he does so with a lyrical style. Mike cares about the language used, and he takes great care to paint the picture of what is going on with metaphor and simile. His words don't just move the plot along, but they weave a picture. This is one of Mike's strengths, but it does make his writing a little more dense. The book is not an easy pick-up and read. There's effort expended in working through the passages.

Like his first book, The Resurrection, he deals with flawed characters with significant weakness. Zeph was horribly scarred by his stepmother. Spunky senior citizen Annie Lane has fought isolation and feeling like she may have been passed by in her destiny. There's even a lot of empathy for one of the antagonists, Fergus Coyne, who battles in his own decision on how to confront his past. The bottom line is that you care about these characters because they have significant doubts and challenges - things we can relate to as readers.

Now to the plot and the big idea of the book. I'm going to rate the writing to finish today, and tomorrow will tackle the implications of the themes.

Mike said he threw the kitchen sink at this book. Government conspiracy theories, prophecy, demons, body-snatching, and cactus jelly all in one swirl of suspense. This makes it very interesting. To me, it also made it tricky to follow everything that went on. I will admit that I read it in fits and starts due to my schedule, but the back and forth of the varied plot points got confusing - enough that it dampened some of the enjoyment. Between the twists and four different point of view characters, I had to step out of his world to figure out who was doing what and where it fit.

It is a good book. I didn't feel it was a great read. Fellow writers are notorious to please, because we read books with different eyes than a standard fiction fan. If I had to rate it on a scale, I'd give it 3.5 stars out of 5. There's a lot to think about in this book, there are interesting characters, and a skillful use of language, tempered by a mildly confusing plot.

I didn't talk about the themes and big ideas. Check back tomorrow for that - I promise it is the most interesting part.

Also, check out the other posts on The Telling. Becky Miller lists all the posts so far.

Monday, September 24, 2012

CSFF Tour Day 1 - The Telling by Mike Duran

 It's time to "Tell" you about the September Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour.

This one is a pleasure for me because the CSFF is featuring Mike Duran and his latest novel, The Telling.

Mike Duran is an author and prolific blogger. His blog Decompose is a fertile ground of ideas that make you think. Not only does Mike post provocative thoughts on faith, fiction, and culture, but the community of commenters he has following him often expand the posts into very interesting realms.

Mike is not afraid to ask the hard questions or probe issues regarding Christian fiction and speculative ideas. However, he has a deep love for the Church and regularly pokes at the foibles of atheist and relativistic thinking.

Mike and I chatting it up
The best part about Mike is that he is real and he is interested in people and exploring these issues. I know this because I had the great pleasure of meeting him this last weekend at the ACFW Conference in Dallas.

If this post sounds gushing because I just met the guy and I'm talking him up, you can forget that idea. The web does not allow for really knowing people, no matter how much you think it does. The face-to-face with Mike and bouncing ideas off him and other like thinkers (here's a shout to fellow CSFF tour member Morgan Busse) over meals was a highlight of the conference to me.

Over the next few days we'll be talking about Mike and The Telling. I'm sure it will be a tour with a lot of discussion. I invite you to check out my fellow tourmates below for more information.

 Jim Armstrong
Noah Arsenault
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Bruce Hennigan
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The New Top 5 Ways To Pass Time In An Airport

I posted a handy guide to passing time in an airport last year. But after so much time has passed, the old list may be passe.

The internet needs a NEW list of things to do in an airport.

Without further ado:

5. Jockey for the best place to park. The ideal spot? Comfy chairs, plug-ins for your laptops and other electronic necessities, and a TV playing something better than CNN Financial. I'm parked in front of a football game, in a black lounge chair, with multiple plug-ins. I win.

4. See if you can find someone watching a movie on their laptop and find a way to get close enough for the free entertainment. Disclaimer: if you get in trouble with people for peeping - you didn't have to take my advice.

3. Get your exercise. Power walk up and down the concourse. You may want to find deodorant for this option.

2. Bonus points for this one - get your fellow passengers to join you in doing the Gangnam Style dance. Seriously, if you post a video link here doing it, I'll send you a pack of gum or something.

1. Write a blog post. You can give people hints on how the pass the time… (Recycled from last year, but classics never go out of style)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Taking The Next Step

Here we go.

I've been on this writing adventure for a long time now. I started back into it as an adult writing fan fiction (shout out to KFF, yo!). I had forgotten how much I liked telling the stories that popped into my head.

I came up with an idea for a novel. My writing friend Athena Grayson helpfully shot the sick goose dead before it got very far off the ground.

Then I had another idea. This one had some promise.

I started writing.

That was...a while ago.

We won't go into detail how long ago *cough*2005*cough*.

I followed writers, read blogs, hung out at writing forums, and started writing about writing myself. I read a lot of books. Read books on craft. Read suspense, mystery, crime, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, YA, and even a romance or two.

Very slowly, I wrote.

I kept waiting for the muse to hit to really write. I learned the muse sucks.

Then something changed. I learned to write no matter what. I set my mind to it and plugged away at it. In the last year I wrote twice as much as I had the previous six years.

Suddenly I had a first draft of a novel done.

Well shoot, now what do I do with it?

So here I sit in the airport terminal. Ready to fly off to Dallas to meet with a few other writers (about 700 or so, not many). I've made the commitment. I'm not doing this lightly. It is time to go for it.

Here I go. And if I have any advice to give, it would be this: go for it.

See you on the other side.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Arrrr Ye Ready?

Welcome aboard mateys, as this blog's flagship holiday approaches.

International Talk Like A Pirate Day

As this intrepid explorer will be working and flying off to Dallas (a shame, as there are no oceans nearby), it seemed prudent to offer up the traditional pirate resources. Although piracy is not usually associated with prudence.

Every pirate needs a good source of navigation. How else do they find rum?

The age old question: pirates or ninjas. This landlubber writer makes his choice, and he'll be paying Davy Jones a visit real soon.

Or, ye can settle the dispute yerself. Heave ho with the dodgeballs!

If ye are not proficient in yer pirate lingo, here be a handy translator.

There even be some food merchants who are forthcoming with plunder if ye speak to them winsomely.

Here some photographic evidence of piracy and plunder be revealing the buccaneer among ye.

Cutlass versus rum...cake

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pre-Conference Jitters

In one week I'll be at the airport.

It's time for the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas. This is my first writing conference, and I've already shared some resources I've found while preparing.

One would think that with all the advice on the web that there wouldn't be nerves. Ah, who am I fooling? We're human, and anytime we do something wildly different it will create anxiety. I've been working on a novel for a long time. It's finally to a point where I feel comfortable going and seeing what happens.

So, if you're like me and worried about what to expect for your first conference, here's a few more posts I've found circulating the net while procrastinating preparing for take-off.

Mike Duran says chuck the check list but pack the deodorant.

Agent Karen Ball gives her two B's for the conference. Scroll to the bottom of her post, and you'll find several other helpful links. One of them I'll link specifically, from Tamela Hancock Murray for the ACFW 2011 Conference with the helpful title of Conquering Conference Jitters. So you can read that post, or jitter away. The choice is yours.

Maybe I'll see you at the conference. If we're lucky, we won't end up like the unfortunate gentleman below.

True picture of a n00b at the ACFW conference last year

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Revision All The Time

Two weeks until the conference.

No big deal or anything, right?

I know I don't have to have my first revision done before I go to the ACFW Conference. If I am lucky enough to get some interest, I will have a little time to get it finished. Still, it provides a handy deadline and incentive to get it done. I am one of those writers who works better under pressure.

Just as there are many helps out there for writers when plotting, I'm finding a lot of resources for revision. I'd like to pull together a post of links for helpful sites, but guess what? I'm on a deadline. ;)

I've been impressed with the American Christian Fiction Writers member resources. I signed up as a member a few years ago but I wasn't as serious and didn't take advantage of the services. Right now I have signed up for their novel editing loop on email. They run this every couple of months. They have you set a goal and report your pages edited to give accountability and encouragement. They also offer mini-lessons on editing basics. There are handy tidbits in there.

The one book I've fully read and used is James Scott Bell's Revision and Self-Editing.This helpful guide gives an overview of Bell's fiction teaching and applies the knowledge to the revision stage of writing. He is one of my favorite writing guides, so I'm happy to dig into it. I've also read the ubiquitous Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by King and Browne, but that was a long time ago.

Today Nathan Bransford had a helpful post about revision. When you get to the point that you hate your novel, that you can't imagine another change - well, then you're close to being ready. Go check the post out for yourself.

And in closing, if you didn't see Bransford's Publication Process in GIF form, then you missed one of the best posts for writers in a long, long time.

I'd say more, but those revisions aren't happening by themselves. Back to the grindstone.
Do you have any specific revision resources you like? Please share them in the comments below.