Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why I Now Believe In NaNo

Lookit what I won.
In 2011 I wrote a post entitled, "Why I Don't Do NaNo."

NaNoWriMo, to the uninitiated, is the National Novel Writing Month. Each November writers are encouraged to plant the butt firmly in chair and crank out a 50,000 word novel. It's been going on for several years now, and it always brings out a lot of excitement in writer circles.

In 2011 I talked about how it didn't work for me when I tried it a couple of times. It was good for some people, but didn't work for everyone, and I was one of those writers.

Fast forward to 2013.

Facebook was buzzing with my writer friends saying how they were going to disappear for the month because of NaNo. The excitement was palpable. Just because I said I wasn't going to do it, I felt a pang of missing out.

Man, they were going to have all this fun.

Then on October 30, I thought, why not? I can try it again. If I get a few thousand words out, it's more than I would have had if I weren't writing. My main project was under going another round of revisions, so it was out of consideration.

But there was this new idea I'd been composting for a while. I even got to do some brainstorming on it with Jill Williamson on our flight back from the ACFW writer's conference in September. Would the new idea hold water? NaNo seemed like an opportunity to play with it and see what could happen.

I jumped in.

For the first week, I kept up pace. A writer has to average 1667 words a day to finish the 50,000 on time. Then life started interfering and I fell off. Well, at least I had some words down.

Except I had a taste of success. Circumstances worked out. I kept plugging away.

By November 28 I had three days left and 10,000 words to go. Could I do it? Facebook friends were now cheering me on. My wife succumbed agreed to let me have time over the holiday weekend to hit the keys.

And on November 30 I clocked in at 50,077 words.

So, this is partially a self-indulgent, congratulatory post. Whoo-hoo, I did it!

But I also learned some things about writing.

I learned how to push for a deadline. My first novel was written over seven years. No sense of urgency there. Now I knew I could be dedicated and churn out some significant production if challenged.

I was able to explore a new idea. Obviously the first draft of everything is mostly crap, but it forced me to work through some plot points, and there are a few keepers in there. Of course, the chapter where I was stuck and decided to interview one of my characters for "word count" won't make the final cut. But I learned things about Demarcus that I can use later on. It's all good!

Having a minimal outline helps. I was drowning for a bit until I brainstormed a few plot points to get me out of a bunch of conversations over food. Even when one of the points was, "something bad happens now," it helped me have enough structure to push forward.

I went from doing 1000 words on my best day to 5200 words. Again, they came fast and furious, and I hope they at least make complete sentences, but I got them out. Now the revision scalpel can come out.

So to me in 2011 - you were wrong. You can do NaNo, and with the right circumstances it does help you out. But enough of the blog post - you've got revision to do. Get cracking!

Have you done NaNo? What was your experience? Please share in the comments below.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

CSFF Tour - The Shadow Lamp, Day 3

In Which The Butter Is Stretched Too Thin Over The Toast

Hello again CSFF Tour fans. The monthly focus on Christian speculative fiction is wrapping up on the fourth book of the Bright Empires series, The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead. Yesterday I did a brief recap of the other three books so far. This link will take you to all of my prior posts on the Bright Empires series. 

Lawhead said this was an ambitious series for him and that he didn't think he could write something like it earlier in his career. Now he was at a point that he could wrestle it.

Out of four rounds so far, the score card for this fight would be Lawhead 3 to 1. Unfortunately, The Shadow Lamp misses the mark in comparison to the other books. 

It is a major challenge to find a story that can stretch for a trilogy, much less five books. There has to be enough conflict and high enough stakes to carry a reader through to the end.

The Bright Empires series has a significant crisis to solve by the end of book five - the potential destruction of the universe. So that's something.

The problem with book four is that it became too much of a set up story. There is a lot of shuffling the pieces to get them into the proper position. However, the stakes do not often grab the reader and make them care enough about what happens. 

For instance, Lady Fayth and her loyal manservant Giles separate from the main group of heroes and get lost in an unknown dimension. There are harrowing circumstances, but the reason for their departure and the subsequent trial is nebulous. I shrugged my shoulders. Okay, why did that happen?

There are numerous plot points swirling around from the various players trying to figure out ley travel through dimensions for their own purposes. Some of them explain some background or seem to be moving somewhere, only to fizzle out. Maybe there is more to the story of Douglas, or the pirate attack suffered by the Burleigh men, but the significance was lost to me.

There were also two gatherings where educated people talked. A lot. They set up the huge consequences that happened in the prior book and pointed to the final act, but there wasn't much action or development within The Shadow Lamp itself.

The writing quality was still well done. Lawhead is so good at description and setting from his research and experience. I'm invested enough in the story that I will see it through to the end. I have faith that the last installment will be worth following this series for five years from when it released to its conclusion next year. But The Shadow Lamp will be the filler episode that is quickly forgotten in the midst of the other books.

One other factor has been discussed elsewhere in the tour, but Lawhead has discussed a little more theology in books 3 and 4 over the first two books. 

I could see the seeds he planted and was excited about the firstfruits revealed in The Spirit Well. But in The Shadow Lamp, he takes the mythology he's created for the story regarding time and the idea of the multiverse and places it against the nature of God, in my opinion. Basically, if the heroes don't fix things, the timestream will collapse on itself and destroy everything. 

I don't have a problem with a big cataclysm in a book - the bigger the stakes the better, usually. Like bacon. You can't have too much bacon. But I digress.

The issue is when this can happen despite God. That's what it sounds like could happen. Maybe I'm wrong, or maybe he'll clarify things in book five. Until then, my opinion was that this particular point is a detraction to the whole.

So, the take-home point? The Shadow Lamp is not a bad book. It's just not very memorable. It is by no means a deal-breaker in reading the Bright Empires series. My experience with Lawhead is that he can be a streaky writer. Some of his books have been my favorites. And some...not so much. Unfortunately The Shadow Lamp will stay in the shadows of my memory when all is said and done.

If you wonder what others are saying, Becky Miller has the list of all the participants. So I'll see you on the other side of the ley lines. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

CSFF Tour - The Shadow Lamp, Day 2

In Which The Blogger Gets A Hand Cramp By Trying To Keep It All Straight

Hey, the CSFF Tour is continuing the focus on The Shadow Lamp, the fourth book in the five book Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead.

Lawhead is a prolific fantasy author with 24 books to his name. He's written about the Crusades to Robin Hood, from Byzantium to a Celtic fantasy land, an Arthur series and kids books. Now he calls Bright Empires his most ambitious work yet.

It's hard to bring together four different books into three short blog posts. But, that's my task today.

Here's a very quick run-down of the previous books.

The Skin Map - This kicks off the adventure by introducing us to Kit Livingstone, the main character who has inherited his family's skill of ley travel, the journeying between dimensions of the multiverse. Except he's not very skilled at it. He loses his girlfriend Mina in 16th century Prague, ends up betrayed and left to die in an Egyptian tomb, only to be rescued by said Mina, who is a quicker study than her boyfriend. It turns out a lot of people are looking for the Skin Map, a map made of the skin of Arthur Flinders-Petrie, a man skilled at ley travel who tattooed directions on his own skin using strange symbols as code. Guess he won't lose that map...

The Bone House - Now there are more stories bouncing back and forth in time. We learn the origin of the villainous Lord Burleigh, who was the bad guy in the previous book. Arthur is looking for a way to save his wife. Kit and Mina try to dodge Burleigh, and Kit being Kit gets stranded in the Stone Age and ends up in a Bone House. Funny how that worked out...

The Spirit Well - Now Kit stumbles on a way out of the Stone Age and is reunited once again with Mina. A new traveler, Cassandra Clarke, an American paleontologist, has fallen through time and has been found by the Zetetic Society, a group dedicated to ley travel and watching out for good. If everyone could just find the blasted Skin Map, everything would be alright. Of course, there are different folks with their own agendas weaving through time. And one traveler might just have broken the universe...

Whew. There's a lot to chew on there. Lawhead is a skilled writer and researcher. He travels widely and is very good with the historical detail, so the various locales are very intriguing. He writes in a slightly detached style giving the book a subtle whimsy and British feel. So far, very good. Like he says, the books are unique in the speculative fiction field.

If you want to see all of my posts on the Bright Empires series, here's the link to all the tags. Fittingly, like the narration in the series the posts don't necessarily come in order. You can also go to Stephen Lawhead's Facebook page or author page. Finally, Becky Miller is our tour guide, and she gathers all the posts together here from all of the participants. I'll have my review of The Shadow Lamp tomorrow.

Of course, if you can figure out time travel, you can read it right now.

Monday, November 11, 2013

CSFF Tour - The Shadow Lamp Day 1

In Which An Old Friend Comes Back To Visit, So To Speak

Welcome back to the CSFF Tour. The best in Christian speculative fiction comes through this great resource. And this month, I had a chance to read the book!

I am excited to participate because we're featuring the latest in the Bright Empires series, The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead. This is the fourth book in the series, so we are quite familiar with the comings and goings of the various characters. Well, that might be generous.

The Bright Empires series deals with a peculiar feature - the ability to travel through the multiverse by an intriguing feature known as ley lines.

An Englishman named Kit Livingstone was living a rather uninspired life until his great-grandfather Cosimo introduced him to the family business of traveling to different dimensions.

After trips to 16th century Prague, a Stone Age hunter-gatherer camp, and an escape from an Egyptian tomb, Kit has gathered with some friends. His girlfriend Mina, the Italian priest Gianni, and the American paleotonlogist Cassandra are on the verge of a major discovery. If only they had their shadow lamps to guide them in the treacherous dangers of ley travel.

Because the journey to find the Skin Map, return to the Bone House, and discover the mystery of the Spirit Well has already claimed many lives. Oh, and it might be threatening the fabric of all creation.

For more information, you can go to Stephen Lawhead's Facebook page or author page. Also, the fine folks below are joining in the discussion, so check them out as well.

Julie Bihn Red Bissell Thomas Clayton Booher Thomas Fletcher Booher Beckie Burnham Jeff Chapman Karri Compton Theresa Dunlap April Erwin Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Becky Jesse Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Carol Keen Rebekah Loper Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirriam Neal Writer Rani Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Jojo Sutis Rachel Starr Thomson Robert Treskillard Steve Trower Rachel Wyant Phyllis Wheeler Deborah Wilson

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CSFF Tour - Martyr's Fire

Hey. Is it that time again?

Yes it is. Time again for the Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy Tour. Speculative fiction at its finest.

This month's feature is Martyr's Fire by Sigmund Brower. This is the third book in the Merlin's Immortals series. The Orphan King  and Fortress Of Mist are the two previous books.

From Amazon:
Will this dangerous quest lead the outcast Orphan King toward an ancient secret—or to certain destruction?
Posing as a beggar, Thomas escapes Magnus after fifteen men, who are calling themselves the Priests of the Holy Grail, arrive and take control of the castle through wondrous acts and apparent miracles. With the help of his longtime friend Gervaise, Thomas sets out on a journey that leads him to the ancient Holy Land. Unaware that Katherine and Hawkwood are watching over him, Thomas is tested in his beliefs and comes face to face with the ancient power that the Merlins and Druids have long been searching for.

Enter the world of Merlin’s Immortals, where ancient secrets and evil conspiracies take you on a breathless adventure of discovery, intrigue, and hidden knowledge. 

I didn't get this book, but there are people below who have and can give you more info on it. For a summary of all of the posts of the week, check out Becky Miller's post for the latest and greatest. 

Red Bissell Beckie Burnham Theresa Dunlap Emma or Audrey Engel April Erwin Victor Gentile Nikole Hahn Becky Jesse Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Rebekah Loper Jennette Mbewe Amber McCallister Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Writer Rani Nathan Reimer Jojo Sutis Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler Deborah Wilson Rachel Wyant

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Conference Decompression

That was fast.

The 2013 ACFW Conference in Indianapolis has come and gone like a blur. It seems only a few days ago I was talking about the 2012 conference in Dallas. Sheesh.

The Northwest writers. 
You might wonder what happens when 580+ writer types gather in one place like that. Being a guy who likes speculative fiction, I could say that it tears into the space/time continuum, but that might be a little exaggeration.

If you are serious about writing, going to a conference is a great thing to do. You are around other creative types that understand the process, the joys and battles of it all. There are great opportunities to learn the craft and meet people to encourage and help you along the way.

For those who have gone to ACFW and couldn't make it this year, you were missed. The conference filled up due to a lower capacity at this hotel. It was nicer than Dallas in that we were downtown, so it was possible to get out and about.

I'm proud to belong to a group like ACFW because of the fellowship in Christ we also share. It isn't every conference where you find a couple of writers huddled in a corner discussing plots or future plans and then bowing heads to pray about the things shared. That is a special part of ACFW that is a real benefit to Christian writers.

I have some friends that want more details. Here's a running list, and feel free to contact me if you have questions about anything here.

*I didn't know much about Robin Jones Gunn, the keynote speaker, but she was a joy and such an encouragement. She spoke like a true storyteller and helped put things in perspective for all of us. I think she was exactly the person needed there.

*If you can go to a James Scott Bell lecture or workshop, do it. There's a reason he is spoken of so highly in writer circles for the craft. He presents so well and lays out the tricks and tips he's learned in such an entertaining and helpful way. I've read his book Plot & Structure, but this brought it home even more. The only downside is that it was a full-day workshop, so I had to miss out on some other interesting possibilities.

*I need therapy now thanks to Tosca Lee. She presented a class on making unsympathetic characters sympathetic. She had us write about betrayals, loss, fears. I thought I had dealt with those issues, but she dredged them all up. Actually, this was quite helpful in making my bad guy better.

*Storytelling games with speculative fiction writers beats all. Just sayin'.

*Leave it to Peter Leavell to get one hooked up with the cool crowd.

*The costume night was a big hit and a very smart, diplomatic move by the conference organizers. No one got kicked out this year! Good job Robin and company.

*Pitching to agents and editors was much easier the second time around. Though I still wish I would have brought chocolate as a bribe. Just in case.

*I would like to see some way to gather and encourage the men at ACFW. We are outnumbered by far and I think it would be a boost to have some fellowship in some way.

*There is still a lot of talk about traditional publishing vs. small press vs. self-publishing electronically. The issue is big and is still in a lot of flux. Check out Rachelle Gardner's ebook for the same content she shared in a class there.

*There are a lot of creative people out there who love the Lord. I pray we all look to see how best we can serve Him and others with our gifts. Perhaps some of us should be broader in scope - finding ways to reach out to the general market or provide quality stories with heart that prepares the way for their readers to be more open to the spiritual.

*The elevators were a great place to meet and greet. Sometimes we got really close on the elevators. Seeing as there were only four and the stairs weren't handy.

"Are you my mummy?"
It was a great time, and despite some last minute doubts, this conference turned out better than last year for me at least.

And yes, I'm wearing a fez. Fezzes are cool. (Bonus points for the reference there).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It Be A Pirate Holiday

Arrr, yeah!

It be that favored holiday of this here blog, International Talk Like A Pirate Day. For years Spoiled For The Ordinary has championed September 19th as a high day of silliness and pirate-y things. This year be no exception.

For today only, get the excellent pirate novel Pirate Hunter by Tom Morrisey free on Kindle, Nook, or whatever preferred vessel o'reading ye have.

Here be some other fine pirate tales from the master story-teller George Bryan Polivka. This blog has featured these tales before as well.

The Library of Congress has some excellent reading for you scurvy dogs that can actually read.

I may not fancy these Buccaneers, but anyone who has a pirate ship in their stadium is a salty dog.

And these rascals of the Seven Seas 'ere not to be trusted. They make break out in brawlin' or a piano duet at any time. ARRR!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Writing Rules...I Mean Guidelines

As an aspiring writer, there are rules of fiction that I must live by. Show, don't tell. Stick with one point of view a chapter. Don't use passive voice. Kill all your adverbs.

All of these rules are very helpful for writers. They become rules because they do help books sound better. They help a writer.

However, there's a backlash going on in the writing world. People are starting to ask question about the rules.

Ava Jae has a popular writing site, and she concedes writing advice is just that, advice. 

Jeff Gerke is a writing teacher, author, and publisher. On Facebook, he started a discussion about the writing rules out there because he wants to write a book about the rules. In his bookWrite Your Novel in a Month he argues that the only rule that can't be broken is to be sure to engage the reader.

Finally, Rachelle Gardner, a respected agent with one of the top writing blogs, just talked about the rules being tools overall. They can help when a book isn't working, but if it works to break a rule for the situation, then it's okay.

This has helped me a lot. I know that I need to listen to advice from those who have experience. But I've also gotten conflicting advice. I got knocked off my groove for a couple of months after some bad feedback from a writing contest. Now I'm getting back into it and I'm realizing that I need to serve the story overall and use the rules as those tools, not as a bludgeoning hammer to force something into place.

I'm thankful for these people speaking up about the rules being more, well, guidelines to steal from a certain pirate captain. Hopefully my writing friends can be encouraged in the same way.

SO: any writing rules you've run across that have been used against your writing that really needed to be broken? Share them here and I'll pass them on to Jeff Gerke for his book.

P.S. Did anyone notice the writing rule I broke in the first sentence?
P.S.S. Can you believe I've finally gotten a Writing Wednesday post out?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

CSFF Tour - A Cast Of Stones

It's two for one month.

The Christian Sci-fi/Fantasy Tour is doing two August features. We just finished with Captives by Jill Williamson, a young adult dystopian novel. Now we're featuring the fantasy series The Staff And The Sword by Patrick W. Carr. The first two books in the series are A Cast Of Stones and The Hero's Lot

The bad news is that I didn't have time to read both books, so I didn't read A Cast Of Stones. The good news that if you go this week, A Cast Of Stones is free on Kindle and Nook, so you can check out the beginning of this series and see if it is worth your while. If you like it, you can pick up A Hero's Lot and wait for the final book A Draw Of Kings in January.

Praise for “A Cast of Stones” –

“VERDICT This fast-paced fantasy debut set in a medieval world is a winner. Both main and secondary characters are fully drawn and endearing, and Errol’s transformation from drunkard to hero is well plotted.” ~Library Journal
“Carr’s debut, the first in a series, is assured and up-tempo, with much to enjoy in characterization and description.”~Publisher’s Weekly
My fellow tour members below will have more on these books, and Becky Miller collects all of the posts on her page here. So what are you waiting for? There's a free book out there for you!

Julie Bihn Jennifer Bogart Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham Jeff Chapman Laure Covert Pauline Creeden Emma or Audrey Engel April Erwin Nikole Hahn Jason Joyner Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Writer Rani Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Jojo Sutis Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler Rachel Wyant

Monday, August 26, 2013


A cool thing about our Outreach Saga is that I don't have to carry the load. I do a lot of the teaching, but others step up when they have something from the Lord to share.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Cyndi Gavin shared. She talked about the worth we have to God. What she shared was so good I had to pass it on:

If you could do anything, what would it be? That was the question she posed to us. We had a paper and pencil to write down what we would do if we could do anything we wanted. Then she talked for a bit about how we get our sights on things that aren't worthwhile.

She pulled out a fifty dollar bill and asked if anyone would want it. Many hands shot up. What if it was dropped in the mud? There were still takers. Now if a one dollar bill was in the mud, you'd consider whether it was worth it. Not with the fifty. It's gone.

Then she came back to our papers, with our one wish on there. She asked this question: How much was it worth? Was it worth giving the life of your child for it?

No one said yes.

But God said yes.

He said we were worth enough that He would sacrifice His Son for us. And He did just that.

That is how much we are worth.

So, know that you are loved today. And no matter how bad things may seem, God thought you were worth it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

CSFF Tour - Captives Day 3

If you've been following along the past two days, you are brave. Now I can reveal my secrets.

I've been posting updates on the controversial book Captives by Jill Williamson. As you can see by the warning above, it is a dangerous book. According to Safe Lands Enforcers, it should be reported.

I'm here to tell you I've read it.

If you get caught and point back to me, I'll deny it. But it isn't what the warning says. It is something far different.

How Jill Williamson came by her knowledge is hidden, but she has told the story of the villagers taken into the Safe Lands in an engaging manner. You may only pick it up to flip through a couple of pages to see what the fuss is about. If you do, you'll be hooked. Questions will form in your mind: Why does the Safe Lands need help with reproduction? Why was Omar willing to betray his people to the Safe Lands? What does Mason and Levi expect to accomplish by playing along with the authorities?

These two brothers, forced into leadership by the death of their village elders, are the lynchpin of the tale. Levi takes action and tries to break his family and friends out. Mason investigates, looking for a deeper truth that can shake the Safe Lands to its core.

A reader may be willing to shoot the traitor Omar themselves half-way through the book, but is everything as it seems on first glance?

Jill compares the simple life and faith of the outsiders with the flashy but empty diversions of the Safe Lands, offering a stark contrast between the two lives. Now that I have read this, I do not believe everything shown on the Wyndos, or every proclamation from the Enforcers.

I have questions, but the problem is this book is incomplete. It ends before all is revealed. Rumors of another tome, Outcasts, have been whispered from lips hidden in darkness. Is there more to the story of the Safe Lands and the outsiders, or has Jill been captured and liberated into Bliss early?

Now that I have seen this, I can't stay quiet and pretend nothing has happened. Share this post. Tell people, no matter the risk to me. And more information can be found. Rebecca Luella Miller has been active in collecting all the myths and legends regarding Captives and the tale Jill Williamson exposes, so visit her site for the latest.

May you find what you're looking for, searcher.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

CSFF Tour - Captives, Day 2

You've come back? Brave...or foolish. Time will tell.

Then let this speculative tour continue:

This book Captives tells the story of the Safe Lands, whose majestic walls were built to protect from the plague that decimated the land that used to be America. Not everyone came into the walls, and they built small villages in the surrounding countryside.

How they survived is an enigma.

The Safe Lands deals with the thin plague through modern advances like skin creams and the latest cosmetics. Since there is no cure, people may at least  be made comfortable. The one consequence that can't be bypassed is sterility. No babies can be brought to term by the infected.

If one is creative, then any situation can be circumvented. What if those outside the walls were invited in, if they were willing to contribute samples for conception?

And if they didn't want to come voluntarily, how best to convince them otherwise?

There are whispers of three village brothers: Levi, the eventual town elder, Mason the healer, and Omar. Omar, the victim of bullying and ridicule from his father and Levi. Omar, the vehicle for getting his people into the Safe Lands.

She is wanted for questioning.
Once inside, the simple village folk should appreciate the amazing comforts of Wyndos to view any program or retrieve information, tattoos that can be changed and customized, and vapes that can deliver any sort of stimulant. As long as their women, uninfected, acted as surrogates. As long as the men did their part, the partnership should work.

However, many of the outsiders are willing to accept their place in the Safe Lands. Rumors of an underground resistance movement pass like fleeting shadows. If they were true, and if Levi and Mason could connect with these quixotic malcontents, then something truly amazing could happen.

Again, how the author Jill Williamson was able to come up with these details is an issue for much speculation. This will be discussed further tomorrow. And if you are willing to search for more about Captives, then the would be another place to start.
post of Rebecca Luella Miller

Like I said yesterday, don't stay in one place too long. The Enforcers might be watching. If they are, then as they say in the Safe Lands:

Find pleasure in life.

Monday, August 12, 2013

CSFF Blog Tour - Captives Day 1

I need to know something. Where are you when you are reading this?

If you're in a village like Glenrock or Jack's Peak, you should be fine (although I'm wondering how you're getting internet access).

You didn't see this here...
However, if you're in the Safe Lands, then read at your own risk. I can't guarantee safety from the Enforcers. No one wants a mark against them. Not unless you want early liberation.

I warn you because there is a new book called Captives. It is written by a woman named Jill Williamson, who knows too much. How she learned these details will be the subject of much speculation. That is what this tour is about. The CSFF Tour likes the speculative. Together we must deduce why she is writing this tale and exposing things about the Safe Lands that may not be all that safe.

For now, keep yourself clean. You don't want to end up with the plague. If someone offers you a vape, turn them down. You don't want to get hooked.

To avoid detection, I'll have to post over three days to explain. If you spend too much time at one place, you might get caught. So I advise you to check out the posts below for more information and to see if you can piece the puzzle together. If you're truly brave, go to Jill Williamson's website directly.

Now go! Stay safe.

Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Pauline Creeden
Emma or Audrey Engel
Victor Gentile
Timothy Hicks
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Asha Marie Pena
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Rachel Wyant

Monday, July 08, 2013

All In

When people ask me where I go to church now, I tell them about our Outreach Saga. Meeting in the park. Trying to do a community of Jesus in the midst of a group of people on their turf instead of in a specific building.

Sometimes people respond, "So you don't go to church anywhere else?"

Well, no.

What we're doing is church.

We don't go to a building in the morning and then do outreach after that. We've said that sink or swim, stand or fall, what we're doing with people in the park is what we're doing. It keeps us more engaged I think. There's no lifeline. There's no safe place to retreat to if the going gets rough.

Since we can't go back (well, we could, but not immediately), we have to press in. We have to love people as they are. Working through the ups and downs of life. Pointing to Jesus when it gets rough or when it is going well. It keeps us engaged with the Lord, because without Him it all falls apart. I wish I could say I did this perfectly. I don't.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that with this church in the park deal, we're all in. No chips held back. They've been pushed to the middle of the table and we're playing this hand.

It's exciting. It's frightening. It requires a lot of faith, and the Spirit encourages us an awful lot when we have those human moments of doubt.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Not sure if this song fully fits, but here's Lifehouse with All In.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

CSFF Tour - Storm

Hey there fiction fans. Did you know the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy tour was in full swing?

Yes it is. The CSFF is featuring Storm by Evan Angler. It is the third book in the Swipe series, a middle grade dystopian, apocalyptic story (think along the lines of Hunger Games). Here's the Amazon blurb:

In a future United States under the power of a charismatic leader, everyone gets the Mark at age thirteen. The Mark lets citizen shop, go to school, and even get medical care—without it, you are on your own. Few refuse to get the Mark. Those who do . . . disappear.
Logan Langly went in to get his Mark, but he backed out at the last minute. Ever since, he’s been on the run from government agents and on a quest to find his sister Lily, who disappeared when she went to get her Mark five years earlier. His journey leads him to befriend the Dust, a vast network of Markless individuals who dissent against the iron-grip rule of the government. Along the way to the capital to find Lily, the Dust receive some startling information from the Markless community, opening their eyes to the message of Christianity and warning that humanity is now entering the End of Days.
In Storm, Logan and his friends are the leaders of the Markless revolution. But while some Markless are fighting Chancellor Cylis’ army, the Dust is busy trying to find a cure for a horrible epidemic sweeping through the Marked. And it's difficult for them to know who to trust, especially when they aren't sure if Logan's sister Lily, one of the commanders in Cylis' army, is on their side or not. And all across the nation—and the world—the weather has become less stable and a storm is brewing that bigger than any of them could have ever imagined.

I didn't read this book, but I wanted to share my tourmates' links for your perusal. Also, Becky Miller keeps the definitive list of links for this book tour here. Check them out.

Julie Bihn Beckie Burnham Keanan Brand Pauline Creeden Emma or Audrey Engel Sarah Faulkner Victor Gentile Ryan Heart Jason Joyner Carol Keen Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Writer Rani Chawna Schroeder Jacque Stengl Jojo Sutis Jessica Thomas Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler Rachel Wyant

Monday, June 17, 2013

Back To The Park

Did you see the angel behind the tree? ;)
Ugh. I don't even want to look at when the last time I posted. It's been one of those months.

But in better news, the Outreach Saga is back in the park.

This was our Sunday for church:

We had beautiful singing with a battery powered keyboard.

The worship leader gave an anointed word at the end.

Our main speaker had to wait until the dogs checked each other out to continue.

We talked about Jesus as our redeemer. As we talked about how we can't earn any more unconditional love than what God already gives us, one new gal spoke up. "We can't do sh*t by ourselves. It's Him."

At one point I had to duck a lit cigarette as the gal next to me excitedly waved her arms talking about Jesus.

Yep, we're back in the park. All of us beautiful messes, learning to walk with the Lord in His love and truth. Out in the fresh air. Mixed up with real life, which isn't always pretty or "religious."

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

CSFF Tour - Merlin's Blade Day 2

The CSFF Tour is featuring our own Robert Treskillard and his debut YA novel Merlin's Blade, just released.

I have been excited to read this book ever since I heard that he got his publishing deal. Unfortunately, this month was full of training and certification at work, so I will be reading it a little later in the summer and posting a review at that time. In the meantime, I have arranged for a guest reviewer to share his thoughts on Merlin's Blade.

My twelve year old son Nathan.

He is an avid reader who finished the Lord Of The Rings set and The Hobbit earlier this year. As a young adult who is the target audience, I thought he'd be the perfect stand-in for me and this tour. So here are his thoughts. He's not quite done, but here's his straight forward thoughts.

Merlin's Blade
A stone hypnotizes people and the druids try to use it to control people.  Merlin may be the only person to be able to stop them.
First off I want to say that it has been a very fun book to read.
And I really like the dynamic of Merlin being blind, and seeing him grow as a character because I really like what the author did with him. The fact he is blind makes it a big conflict for him. It’s not something you usually read.
But I do wish that Garth was used more; he seemed to be a fun character.

I also like the romance with Merlin and Natalya, and the relationship with Merlin and his father.
So I really want to keep on reading to find out the secret about the druidow stone.
And I keep on wondering what those visions mean so it’s definitely a book that you want to keep on reading.   

There you go. You can see other tourmates below for more on Merlin's Blade. I'm excited for more to come from Robert.

Noah Arsenault Beckie Burnham Keanan Brand Jeff Chapman Laure Covert Pauline Creeden Emma or Audrey Engel April Erwin Victor Gentile Ryan Heart Timothy Hicks Jason Joyner Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Kathleen Smith Jojo Sutis Robert Treskillard Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler Shane Werlinger Nicole White

I received a promotional copy from the publisher, for which I'm grateful but will not guarantee a good review. Chocolate on the other hand may help things along...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

CSFF Tour - Merlin's Blade Day 1

Welcome to medieval England for the May feature of the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour. We are featuring our own member Robert Treskillard and his debut YA novel, Merlin's Blade

Robert's been with us a long time, and I've enjoyed interacting with him throughout the years. More importantly, I'm so excited that we are able to feature him after so much hard work.

From Amazon:
In Robert Treskillard's take on the Arthurian legends, young Merlin is faced with the challenge of saving his country and those he loves when a mysterious, and dangerous, stone falls from the sky. 
Partially blinded years ago, Merlin is a timid swordsmith who wants nothing more than to live a quiet life and win the hand of Natalenya, the beautiful and kind daughter of a magistrate. But after he and his friend Garth encounter a strange stone in the wood, one protected by druids, Merlin receives a series of visions and prophecies that he is to save his land and his Christian faith from a dark force. As the power of the stone grows and threatens his family and friends, Merlin is forced to embrace his calling---for he may be the only one immune to the stone's power.
Touching on multiple elements of the classic Arthur story---from the Lady of the Lake, the creation of Excalibur, the sword in the stone, and the rescue of Arthur himself---this fantasy tale will appeal to young adults looking for adventure and a hint of romance, as well as adults who enjoy the classic tale this series is based on.

I'll have more on the book tomorrow, but I want to point you to his blog for a special contest he's having. The grand prize winner gets a sword created by Robert himself. Wow. I might have to learn how to spin cloth or something. Oh, you'll have to see this post for the rules.

You can find more information at his blog or author site, and see my tourmates below for their thoughts as well.

   Noah Arsenault Beckie Burnham Keanan Brand Jeff Chapman Laure Covert Pauline Creeden Emma or Audrey Engel April Erwin Victor Gentile Ryan Heart Timothy Hicks Jason Joyner Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Kathleen Smith Jojo Sutis Robert Treskillard Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler Shane Werlinger Nicole White

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Is Missional "The New Legalism?"

There's a post from World Magazine making the rounds in Christian circles by Anthony Bradley entitled, "The New Legalism." He wrote it in response to a tweet he sent out that said:
“Being a ‘radical,’ ‘missional’ Christian is slowly becoming the ‘new legalism.’ We need more ordinary God and people lovers (Matt 22:36-40).”
 He goes on to decry the people that call for Christians to live missional lives and to walk in a radical Christianity. He makes a case that it comes from Millenials disdaining the suburbs they were raised in and the narcissistic world we live in now where everyone is special and needs to do grand things for God in order to be fully walking as Jesus walked.

I saw it posted by Mike Duran and Jaime the Very Worst Missionary, both mentioning it as an interesting read. It is a thought-provoking piece, but I think it is a flawed premise that misleads by focusing on a few points in exclusion to the whole context.

There are some areas where I agree with Anthony. I came of age in Christianity in the Charismatic/Third Wave movement of the 80s and 90s. Well-meaning preachers would call us the Joshua Generation (Psalm 24) and proclaim how we would do great things. Prophecies were made (it was Charismatic after all) and I was encouraged that I could be a leader/teacher/missionary and so on. I believed I had a call to missions, and I did two stints with Youth With A Mission in their Discipleship Training School and School of Biblical Studies.

Something happened in Bible school. God told me to get a skill. I went into medicine, thinking it could open doors for the mission field. Except...I got married. Now, I married my best friend who had also been in missions, and she taught school which would be another great tent-making opportunity. Except...we started having kids. And I had school loans. We bought a house.

All of a sudden I was settled down into a suburban life. I went to church on Sundays, tried to establish my career, coached kids in soccer, and wondered when I would get into missions, my real call.

This is where I agree with Anthony. In the Charismatic stream I came from, greatness was the promise we were told God had for us. I could see myself traveling and teaching, ministering in different countries. There was some narcissism there. Prophets never seemed to say, "You're going to live a boring life in the town you grew up in." There was always more suggested.

The problem was that basic commitment to serve the Lord in whatever way He called us. I was always willing to do whatever, or at least that's what I said. Still, I had my idea what that meant, and I struggled when things didn't go that way. If I had a heart for missions, why was I still in the U.S.?

Then last year things were turned upside down in our lives.

We found ourselves in a like-minded group that didn't have expectations of going to a regular church and doing the "typical Sunday things." We asked God what we could do. He gave us the Outreach Saga, where we met locally in the midst of a low-income housing area and worked with people that felt on the outside of church.

In the midst of this upheaval I've started following people like Neil Cole, Alan Hirsch, Francis Chan, and David Platt, people associated with groups like the Verge Conference. Verge talks a lot about missional, radical Christianity. And Anthony wonders if too much pressure is being placed on young Christians, teens and college students, to do something extraordinary in their lives. If they don't do certain things, they aren't being the best Christians they can.

Anthony creates a straw man argument here. Yes, if leaders are telling people that you can only live for God if you do a certain set of things, it is a form of legalism just like the Pharisees. The problem with this is that it is an extreme and not the norm, as far as my perspective goes. I think Anthony has a particular theological slant against David Platt as evidenced by his review of Platt's book. I don't know all of Platt's teachings, so there may be more here than I realize.

However, Anthony's article makes it sound like every Christian is being told by the missional/radical movement should move to the inner city, do social justice and artistic work, and give up worldly possessions to proclaim the gospel.

You know what. Why not?

I think it comes down to being obedient to what God calls you to do. If it is to work in a successful law firm and make money so you can support other ministries and causes, that is great. If it is to volunteer your law skills to help victims of trafficking, great.

Anthony seems to be asking for a corrective. Americans are very into themselves, and I know that some of the theology and teaching/prophecy from my early years tickled my ears more than spoke of true discipleship. But doesn't the church in America need awakening?

I have many friends that give up so much for the sake of the gospel. I have other friends that love God but segment their lives and don't live in the fullness I believe God has for them. They travel out of town to a large, fancier church with a gifted teacher as the pastor to worship and get fed...and that's it. I know they go there so it can be no muss, no fuss. They don't have to get involved with the church, because it is large and they are anonymous. They don't have to get in the midst of people's messy lives if they don't want to.

I fear this is a large segment of American Christianity. Thus I believe a call to discover missional living, where people are intentional in all they do in order to be used for the Kingdom, is sorely needed. I see the need for Christians to be called to "radical" Christianity. The issue is that it shouldn't be radical in the first place - it should be common-place of a disciple of Christ.

The intro to Anthony's article states:
Is Paul’s urging to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11) only for losers? Do you feel that you’re wasting your gifts if you “settle” into an ordinary job, get married early and start a family, or live in a small town or suburb?

I did struggle with this for a time. I knew God was an extraordinary God, and I wondered if I was missing out. I was faithful serving in my local church, and walked with Him the best I could. Slowly I realized there are seasons of testing or training, and there are seasons of adventure. I knew in my head that we are all missionaries wherever we are, but now I am living it in my heart as I work among the people at the housing complex. I don't have to travel or speak to large groups. I am allowing God to use me to target a small, specific group of people, and it is right where I am supposed to be. I don't worry about not fulfilling my call, because I know I am now.

God can use us in so many ways. But "living quietly" in the above verse also must be alongside "take up my cross and follow Me."

I'm glad I read the article. It sharpened my thinking in this arena. But I disagree with the premise that a missional or radical emphasis is inherently legalistic. My blog is called Spoiled For The Ordinary. We may live an "ordinary" life. But our God is anything but ordinary, and I believe all Christians would do well to see the crazy love He gives us and then go and do likewise. 

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Special Offer From Frank Viola

Hey, I've been following a lot of stuff by Frank Viola in the last year, and I've been tremendously blessed by his work. His latest book just came out. Check out below for more information and a special offer if you order it before May 7th.
Frank Viola’s new book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, has just released. If you get the book between May 1st to May 7th, you will also receive 25 FREE books from over 15 different authors.
Click to ordering information and easy instructions on how to get your 25 free books.
“In Frank Viola’s hands, the story of Lazarus—like Lazarus himself—once again comes to life. In a world where hope is battered and life can so easily beat down the human spirit, we are reminded once more of the possibility of becoming a host of Life.”
John Ortberg, pastor and author of Who Is This Man?
God’s Favorite Place on Earth realigned my heart toward Jesus and His mysterious, confounding, surprising, beautiful ways. It’s not often I learn something new when reading a book, but Frank Viola’s sharp storytelling and insightful interpretation made me hunger for more of the real Jesus.”
Mary DeMuth, author of Everything: What You Give
“God’s Favorite Place on Earth is the kind of book I’ve discovered I need to periodically find and read. Frank Viola’s pen and voice are consistently both penetrating and trustworthy. Beyond his invitingly beautiful writing skill—which makes reading a joy and a sight-seeing tour that brings God’s Word into 3-D when he relates narrative passages, I’m grateful for the depth of his themes.”
Pastor Jack Hayford, Chancellor of The King’s University, Los Angeles
“This is a masterfully engaging book that distills the vision of the Christian life into one focused quest: To be God’s favorite place on earth today. I recommend this little volume to all Christians and Christian leaders.”
Mark Batterson, New York Times bestselling author of The Circle Maker
“Combining masterful storytelling, historical knowledge, biblical insight and practical wisdom, Frank artfully uses the Gospels’ depiction of Lazarus and the small town of Bethany to lay out a beautiful and compelling vision of a God who longs to make every human heart and every church ‘His favorite place.’ This is a beautifully written, timely, prophetic work all would benefit from reading!”
Greg Boyd, pastor and author of Benefit of the Doubt
“A lot of people write books, Frank writes stories and in this one we once again see why he’s such a master. Honored to call him a friend, excited to call him an author I love to read.”
Jon Acuff, bestselling author of Start, Quitter, and Stuff Christians Like 
“Frank Viola surpasses himself in his best book yet—a work of serene, soaring magnificence. Part novel, part biography, part theology, part Bible study, Frank’s imaginative touch and command of prose haiku leaves the reader resolved more than ever to be a Bethany—God’s favorite place on earth.”
Leonard Sweet, Drew University, George Fox University,
“Reading God’s Favorite Place on Earth by Frank Viola, my soul began to burn from Chapter One. To delve into Lazarus’ heart and thoughts … I received a beautiful glimpse into the life of Christ on earth. Lazarus’ stories make a perfect foundation for God’s truth, God’s intimacy. I can’t wait to share this book!”
Tricia Goyer, USA Today best-selling author of 35 books
“In spite of my Ph.D. in Theology, I had never considered the importance of Bethany in the life of Jesus.”
Phil Cooke, media consultant and author of Unique
“The best thing I can say about Frank Viola is this: When I read his books—and I read them all—I don’t think much about Frank Viola. I think about Jesus. And I learn to love Him more. This book is no different. Read it, and you’ll find yourself thinking, if you’re like me, ‘I knew Jesus was great, but… Wow!’ And that, at least from me, is as good as it gets.”
Brant Hansen, Radio personality and blogger 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Write Now

Ah, the best laid plans.

I've been trying to do Monday and Wednesday posts on the blog. They haven't worked out that well lately.

I'm looking at how to work that out. Today I wanted to give a little blurb about how my fiction project is progressing.

I am almost done with my second revision. I have to write a new chapter and revise two more and then I'll have finished. My plan at this point is to find a freelance editor to go over it and help me refine it more. Hopefully there will be enough time to do a third revision before I go to the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis in September.

If you don't see me around here, I'm working on writing. Like, right now. Write now? I'm getting a little confused...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

CSFF Tour - Broken Wings Day 3

Day 3 of the CSFF Tour - the wrap up day.

We've been featuring Shannon Dittemore and her latest book,  Broken Wings, second in the Angel Eyes trilogy. I introduced the book on Monday, and gave my overall review yesterday.

I wasn't quite finished though.

Being a Christian novel, there is another layer to consider when reviewing or discussing a book like Broken Wings. There are the spiritual underpinnings of a CBA book to explore.

Faith can be applied as one layer of a multi-layered story. It may be more of a base layer, the foundation of what happens, but not as apparent on the surface. This would be a book where a character is a Christian, but overt aspects of faith aren't featured in the story. Or it may be a novel written with the idea of a Christian worldview without explicit statements or actions of Christianity. I wouldn't say these are any less of a Christian novel, but the story has another purpose. It isn't dealing with the specifics of faith and belief.

Other novels are Christian from specific content. Whether it is set in a church community, a crisis of faith, or a conversion story, the author wants to explore themes and ideas of faith and religion. The layer of faith is close to the surface, easily discernible.

Since Broken Wings deals with angels and demons, it is not the former.

It is a criticism if a book forces the faith aspect when it isn't natural to the story. It comes across as preachy. Thankfully, Shannon has created an organic exploration of faith, fear, and living for worship in her series. Brielle is on a journey of faith, and throughout she has ups and downs. She can see into the spiritual realm, what Shannon terms "the Celestial." It is the crux of the plot.

It doesn't become a gimmick. The spiritual life is a beautiful thing in Broken Wings. By ascribing colors to emotions and spiritual aspects of life, it allows for imaginative descriptions of what happens in the unseen realm. Worship shows colors dancing in ribbons and waves that captivate Brielle. More than having "angel eyes," she can sense the spiritual. She can smell worship. Rich scents accompany worship. Hearing the angelic worship draws her and calls to her. Brielle may not be a singer, but as a dancer she expresses her feelings in movement, and this is a precious depiction of a way of worship that is not always appreciated in church today.

The descriptions are rich and varied, but the themes resonate with power. I don't want to spoil things, so I won't explain each one, but one theme is sacrifice. As the little cherub Pearla notes toward the end:
"It's the greatest expression of love, she knows, to lay one's life down. But she wonders if humans know just how unique the ability is to do that. Death is not something an angel has to offer her loved ones. How glorious it must be to have one's days numbered by the Father.
How precious it makes each and every one." (page 259, emphasis mine)
What a statement to consider. Wow.

In short, Broken Wings is exactly the type of Christian YA fiction I would want my daughter to read. Now, she's only four, but I will be saving these for her.

That's all I have for this tour, but there are other great people talking about this book - just go to Becky Miller's page to find other posts. And remember how precious each day is.