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.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

CSFF Blog Tour - Broken Wings Day 2

Onto the review.

The CSFF Tour is featuring Shannon Dittemore and her latest book,  Broken Wings, the second book in the Angel Eyes trilogy. I did a synopsis of the book yesterday.

Shannon nailed her debut novel Angel Eyes with a strong voice for her protagonist Brielle, an intriguing premise, and a different take on the idea of spiritual warfare and dealing with angels and demons. The sophomore slump is always a concern for writers.

Thankfully, Shannon kept up the strong work in Broken Wings. A bold choice was the initial setting: hell. An angel especially designed for reconnaissance is peeking into a demonic conference when the adversary from the first novel, Damien, is allowed to return to Stratus, Oregon, to see if he can corrupt Brielle and her boyfriend Jake.

From there the intrigue continued. Brielle has grown from when we first met her, but more obstacles are making life harder than before. The progression of Brielle is nicely handled. Her doubts and fears are realistic and deftly shown. She has experienced faith, but is still new in it and learning how to walk in faith.

YA novels are their own genre, with the sub-categories of fantasy, romance, or since the Twilight novels took off, paranormal or supernatural romance. I read a lot of YA having boys that read a lot, and Shannon does a great job of capturing a younger voice. Now, my boys don't read romance, but I have really enjoyed Jenny B. Jones in the past, a writer that has a wonderful voice with sass and a real touch for the romantic. I think Shannon is right there with that type of romance that will appeal to the young women looking for quality reads.

The book was a very enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys a look at the supernatural or a YA romance. I've said it before: good writing is good writing. That's what Shannon delivers, and I don't mind saying that I really like her books. Heck, I handed over my man card the last time we featured her.

There's another major aspect to the book I'd like to address apart from this review, but I think that can wait for tomorrow. If you're looking for more, Becky Miller always keeps the latest and greatest from the tour on her blog. And no CSFF Tour is complete without Steve Trower's post of songs that match the book. Theme: Broken Wings. Check that out, and I'll be back with final thoughts...


Monday, April 22, 2013

CSFF Blog Tour - Broken Wings Day 1

A question: how do you fly with Broken Wings?

The Christian Sci-fi/Fantasy Tour (CSFF) is back with the latest book from Shannon Dittemore. Broken Wings is the second book in her Angel Eyes trilogy. This is a unique situation for our tour, because we just featured the first book in the series, Angel Eyes, in January. We don't usually get to review books in a series so close together. Readers won't have to wait long for the conclusion either. The final book Dark Halo will release in August. Certified fresh content.

In the first book, Brielle Matthews had her eyes opened. In Broken Wings, she sees more than she may be able to handle.

Brielle had returned to her hometown of Stratus, Oregon, after tragic events happened while in Portland at an exclusive arts school. Thanks to her boyfriend Jake and her new look on life, things have settled down. However, her father has taken up drinking again and is seeing a younger woman that makes Brielle's skin crawl. Jake is hiding something. And a startling event opens up old wounds regarding her mother's death when Brielle was just a little girl.

Unknown to Brielle and Jake, the demonic forces they tangled with in Angel Eyes aren't done with them yet. A new offensive is authorized to strike the small town of Stratus. This time, even having the eyes of an angel may not be enough to save all Brielle cares about.

That's the preview. The review will be following tomorrow. Hope to see you there. My posts from the tour for Angel Eyes is here. If you want to see what others are saying, check out the fellow tour members below.

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Jennifer Bogart 
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
Janey DeMeo
Theresa Dunlap
Emma or Audrey Engel
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Karielle @ Books à la Mode
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback 
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nathan Reimer
James Somers
Kathleen Smith
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Shane Werlinger

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Plotting By The Seat Of Your Pants

Plugging away.

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

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

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

How about a middle way?

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

I was surprised when this started happening with me though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to go set my timer...

Monday, April 08, 2013

Escaping The Zombie Life

The Walking Dead just ended.

I actually can't watch horror shows with things like zombies. My imagination is too active and too sticky - I will retain what I see and it will keep coming back to me. Don't like it, so I don't watch them.

But in honor of the cultural zeitgeist that is The Walking Dead, let me share some thoughts on zombies. And yes, this is for Mission Mondays!

Zombies are such a big deal in pop culture right now. I did try to watch Zombieland in the past to be up on things. In the movie the main guy, Columbus, has an attractive neighbor in apartment 406, whom he silently crushes on her. As things start going crazy in the world, he finds her banging on on his door, asking to stay with him. She barely escaped an encounter with the undead, and wanted some company after her trauma.

They dozed on the couch, but Columbus woke up just in time. Miss 406 apparently had a closer call than she let on, because her eyes were sunken, her skin was pale, and she hungered for more than his company.

He jumped away just before he got more than a playful nibble on his ear. I suppose he got away as it was too early in the movie for the hero to die, but I couldn't deal with the suspense and violence of her chasing him around.

This is something I can control - whether to subject myself to something like that movie.

Still, the zombie theme makes me think of the struggles we have in the Christian life.

See, she didn't come in to his apartment intending to munch on him. She was infected by a virus (as most zombies are) and she was driven to fulfill her flesh. Desire for flesh. Whatever.

Have you ever felt like this - not able to control what you want to do? At least we're not alone. We have good company in Paul.

Romans 7:14-24
     We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
    So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

The sin nature in us is powerful. Paul is talking to Christians in this passage. These aren't people who need Jesus - but people who have already found Him. In Romans 1-8 Paul talks about the three stages of Christian life - the full process of salvation.
  1. Justification - The initial entrance into the Kingdom (what most people think of as salvation, when our debt is paid).
  2. Sanctification - Discipleship; growing in Christ. 
  3. Glorification - Eternal life in heaven.
So how do we get out of walking in the sin nature?

Galatians 5:22-25 tells us about the fruit of the Spirit. Beautiful attributes are listed: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. However, as my pastor has said recently, we are not responsible, nor are we able, to live the Christian life.

We can't manufacture the fruit. I have an apple tree. I can talk nice to it. I can encourage it, exhort it, but I can't get a nice red apple unless - there is death.

I'm amazed at my compost pile each spring. The dead leaves and grass make rich soil, helping life come to my garden and fruit trees. So it is in the Christian life. We live by dying.

Francis Shaeffer says in his book The Finished Work of Christ says, "Jesus didn't die on the cross just to die on the cross. Jesus died on the cross in order that we might be redeemed. Likewise, we are not called upon to die daily just in order to be dead;, we are called upon to die daily in order that we might experience the reality of being alive with Christ" (p155).

We will see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives by dying to ourselves.

Romans 8:10-13 says:
    But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
     Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

I've heard this termed the "resurrection life." If we can submit to the Holy Spirit day by day, we can walk in the life intended for us - not the life we struggle through.

Schaeffer says, "It means that, through faith, I am to die to all things both good and bad, but then to take my resurrected body, as though I had already been raised physically from the dead, and step back into this present world, to serve in the power of the indwelling Spirit" (p188).

We won't be these physical bodies that are shuffling around waiting for the grave. Salvation is not waiting to get into heaven. Like I said, that is the third aspect of salvation. As Schaeffer said, we can live as if we're already in that state. It becomes a battle to submit or yield everyday.

Romans 6:12-14
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

"You and I have the possibility every moment of our lives to hand ourselves to the Lord, to be that out of which He will bring forth all that is wonderful. 'Yield yourselves' (the phrase from Romans 6:13 in the King James for 'offer') is an 'active passivity.' People are naturally afraid of that which is only passive, but we should be afraid of that which is only active as well. Our calling is to active passivity. God will bring about our sanctification, but we are called to be active partners in the process as we yield ourselves to Him" (Schaeffer, p172). 

This is a major challenge to us as modern Americans. We like our individuality and our own initiative to carry us. I wake up most every morning with an agenda, whether it is to work hard, play hard, or even veg. If we can learn to submit day by day to the Spirit's leading, we won't be mindlessly shuffling along in our lives, but we can truly walk in the glorious adventure God has for us. Even if we have to do something - work, care for family, etc. - if we give it up each day. He can make something new with it.

Our fruit will grow as we let the Spirit lead. The fruit will come in season, and provide what we need at that time. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)

I didn't intend to follow a zombie metaphor through my whole sermon. I was going for a hook, but it certainly is one that can be used to speak Kingdom truth. Not that I'd recommend any zombie movies as spiritual guidance.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Pray For Saeed

It's Switch-up week here, with Mission Monday coming on a Wednesday. You can thank April Fool's Day for that.

But today is serious. There is an American pastor from Boise, Idaho, who is unjustly imprisoned in Iran. His name is Saeed Abidini. He was in Iran helping to establish orphanages when he was arrested and charged with trying to convert Muslims. Saeed was once a Muslim, and the case was charged because of this. He escaped the death penalty, but he has a long sentence in one of Iran's most notorious prisons.

Saeed with his children
Many people have rallied to his cause. There is a website called Save Saeed that is the focal point. He has been featured on the national radio network Air1. The ACLJ is fighting for him, and you can sign a petition on his behalf here. Secretary of State John Kerry has made personal appeals for his release. It is heartening to see the response on behalf of our brother.

My friend Brian Harrison, a pastor in Boise, wrote a letter this week to friends and supporters about Saeed's case. Brian writes about a prayer service he participated in on behalf of Saeed:
As we prayed that day I felt like the Lord showed me that there was a tremendous opportunity to begin to pray for Iran and indeed for all Muslims of the world. The reason was that Saeed has written to his family that he forgives his captors. This means that he is blessing those who curse him and in so doing I felt that the Lord showed me that a door of opportunity was being opened through Saeed’s suffering and prayers of forgiveness. If God’s people would concentrate prayer on Iran, I believe that we would see a great move of God in that country and a shift in the political climate. I strongly believe that God intends to move powerfully among the Muslims of the world and prayer is the first step in partnering with God in this endeavor. 
To this end, Brian and his wife Suzanne have committed to praying for Saeed, Iran, and the Muslim world for 50 days starting on April 1st, until the day of Pentecost. I've participated in the 30 Days Of Prayer for the Muslim world before that coincides with Ramadan, and it is always a powerful time of intercession. I wanted to get the word out about this vision Brian has and encourage people to join in prayer in this strategic time.

Saeed has a wife and young kids waiting for him in Boise, and we want to see him released, for justice to be done, and for him to be restored to his family. Can we join in prayer and believe for even greater things? To see spiritual freedom come to millions in the Muslim world?

Join me as I join with Brian and Suzanne in this prayer burden for the next 48 days. We can add our prayers with people around the world for all of those in bondage, whether physical or spiritual. Let's do this saints!

Monday, April 01, 2013

It Is Time

I normally post writing related items on Wednesday, but I can't wait to get this news out there.

It's been a long journey. Seven years of work and drive to learn the craft of writing. I know I'm still growing, but I've come a long ways in that time. I've finished a novel. I write a column for a local paper that runs about every six weeks.

Due to this encouraging news, I've decided it is time to go into writing full-time.

I realize that it may seem presumptuous to pull the trigger at this time, but I have a really good feeling about it. Besides, my wife teaches piano lessons, and with me home at the computer, she could easily double the amount of students she sees to cover things until I have everything firing on all cylinders.

Thank you to all of my loyal readers through the years. The best is yet to come, so I'll see you on the other side. As soon as I clean out my desk, that is.

No risk, no reward!