Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The reason I chose this one stems back to the ACFW conference. At the conference, John Olson told us the story of how one of his first manuscripts he tried to sell was a Christian vampire story. Needless to say, I was a bit curious as to how to even produce a Christian vampire story.
Well, that's exactly what CT Matthews has written and, for the most part, does a pretty good job. There's not a lot of action to the story, but at five pages long, that's to be expected. He also came up with an interesitng twist to how Christians and vampires would interact. I especially appreciated the communion hymn at the end of the story. Very nice touch.
That being said, there were three things that bothered me about this story.
The first is the title. I think Mr. Matthews intended to title his story "Plague", not "Plaque". It's a minor thing but still...
The second two things had more to do with history and theology. The first is the statement that Cain was Jewish.
That may seem like an odd thing to quibble about, but it's actually one of my pet peeves. It's historically inaccurate to refer to someone as Jewish if they died before approximately 587 BC. That's because, historically, nobody was called a Jew until after the people of Judah returned from the Babylonian Exile. Then they're called Jews. Before that point, they were called Israelites, children of Israel, or Hebrews.
It's not even right, really, to refer to Cain as a member of the Chosen People either, since the whole "Chosen People" business didn't get started until Abraham, who lived many centuries (maybe even millennia) after Cain died.
To put it in modern terms, you wouldn't refer to the ancient Maya in Mel Gibson's upcoming movie as "Mexicans", even though they lived and died before Mexico was even formed as a country. It's just sloppy, historically speaking.
The second thing that threw me off was the statement that Jewish people couldn't be turned into vampires yet converts to Judaism could. That just doesn't seem right to me.
Anyway, perhaps the reason why I'm being so picky is because, ultimately, I enjoyed this story and I hope to see more from Mr. Matthews. This guy's got potential.
Once again, don't forget to visit the other members of the Blog Tour:
Todd Michael Greene
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Lost Genre Guild
See you tomorrow for the last day of the tour!
Monday, October 30, 2006
I just now got done reading Double Vision by Randall Ingermanson. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Ingermanson, he's written a few novels in the past. He also puts out a monthly e-zine and has a ton of info on the craft of writing. I took his intermediate writing course at the ACFW conference (and missed most of it due to editor and agent appointments).
After reading Double Vision, I've come to the conclusion that every aspiring writer should spend a little time at the feet of Randall Ingermanson.
This is an extremely well written book. It's the story of a man named Dillon Richards, a brilliant computer programmer with Asperger's syndrome. Dillon has been put to work with a young woman named Rachel Meyers, a genius biophysicist who has invented a quantum computer, a device that, once it's working, would be able to either break every conventional encryption program or create an unbreakable code. The problem is, someone wants the quantum computer and are willing to do just about anything to get it.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Dillon finds himself torn between Rachel and another woman, named Keryn Wills. Keryn and Rachel couldn't be more different from one another and both have designs on Dillon's heart.
I don't want to say much more than that for fear that I'll start dropping spoilers.
But like I said, this was an extremely well written novel. I especially appreciated the different voices that came out with each character. Especially Dillon. Mr. Ingermanson did a marvelous job of creating a unique voice for Dillon, one that gave me a peek into his world.
Go get this book! Now! Follow the link above and you won't regret it.
I got in on this a little late last month, but I'm ready and rarin' to go this month. Sort of. Be gentle, I've never done a full tour before.
This month's victim ... er, target is Dragons, Knights, and Angels Magazine. This is an on-line magazine dedicated to Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy. Truth be told, I have a short story brewing that will likely wind up in their submission box sooner or later (that is, if I ever get my posterier in gear and finish it).
One of the stories that caught my attention in this month's issue was An Epitaph for Shangri La. It was an interesting read about a group of space explorers who find a seemingly idyllic paradise only with no inhabitants. The mystery of what happened to the people of Shangri La is slowly revealed through the story as the people from Earth try to piece it all together.
I'll be honest, I'm not sure if I liked this entirely. It was a thinly veiled critique of modern society. It raised valid points, but a little more subtlety could have made it a truly excellent, kick-you-in-the-gut story.
Anyway, I'll be posting links and thoughts about other stories in the current issue over the next couple of days. Be sure to check out the other sites in the tour:
John J. Boyer
Todd Michael Greene
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Lost Genre Guild
Monday, October 23, 2006
Earlier today, I finished reading Adrenaline by John Olson. This is one of the books I picked up at the ACFW conference, so you know it's a Christian book.
It's the story of a biochemistry student named James Parker. Parker is researching possible cures for muscular dystrophy, a disease that has him confined to a wheelchair and is threatening to kill his sister. He believes he's found a cure in an adrenaline-based drug, but his life becomes complicated when he rescues a young woman named Darcy from a group of drug addicts.
Parker and Darcy are soon plunged into a life-threatening adventure as they try to learn if the drug really works. The problem is, mysteries keep cropping up, more than I can really explain here.
I'll be honest, I'm not exactly sure what I think of this book. It was exciting and well written, but I think the plots were so densely layered that I got a little lost every now and then. Olson piles on the mysteries and conundrums, almost to the point where the plot gets bogged down in places.
It was a good read that got my attention for two reasons:
1) It wasn't what you would call an explicitly Christian book. While Parker and his family are Christians, there isn't a lot preaching in this book. They were quietly Christian. Moreover, Olson never beats anyone over the head with the faith stick. That's not a bad thing; it was a pleasant change after reading a few books where the faith stick was overused. There's really nothing wrong with writing a story where Christianity is more of an underlying, subtle factor, not an overt, end-all and be-all of the story.
2) It was definitely a sci-fi book. You can label it "mystery/suspense", but it's still sci-fi. Adrenaline 355 (or "Mighty Mouse", as it comes to be called) is something straight out of sci-fi. Read the book and you'll see what I mean.
Friday, October 13, 2006
The Wedding Caper by Janice A. Thompson is the last complimentary copy book I received at the ACFW conference and I just finished reading it this morning.
The title lists it as a cozy mystery, and it certainly is that. But I also get the feeling it could be classified as some sort of "chick-lit". Granted, I'm not entirely familiar with the chick-lit genre, so I could be waaaay off, but there you go.
Annie Peterson finds herself thrust into a mystery: where did her husband get $25,000 to pay for her twin daughters' weddings? Is it possible that he's responsible for the burglary at the Clark County Savings and Loan? Annie, using insight she gains from an on-line sleuthing course, tries to unravel the mystery while at the same time dealing with two weddings, a hyperactive dachsund, and a husband who she's not sure she can trust anymore.
Thompson is a talented writer. The characters were fresh and memorable and she displays a great deal of wit throughout the story. That being said, I didn't enjoy it that much. That's not a knock on Thompson; it's just a genre-related thing. I'm a fantasy and sci-fi type of guy; a cozy mystery with strong chick-lit overtones just doesn't do anything for me.
The only other thing that bothered me is that Thompson loads up the story with Christian themes and elements. It was almost too much for me. This especially was the case with the numerous deus ex machina moments throughout the story. Things came together a little too easily at times and it didn't really ring true for me.
But hey, that's just my opinion. For someone who loves cozies, this book would probably be wonderful. It's just not my cup of tea.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
So I signed up to do NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. For the month of November, my goal will be to bang out a first draft of a new 50,000 word novel before midnight of November 30th.
Will I make it? I have no earthly idea. But it should be a fine try.
But the question I have for all of you .... do you have the guts to join me?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
On the up side, they weren't mean or nasty (not that I expected them to be). They also had some helpful comments. Mr. Laube suggested that I work on characterization. This has always been weakness for me. I'm more of a plot-oriented writer.
Mr. Meisenheimer commented on the structure of the story, so I'm thinking that some kind of rewrite is definitely in the cards. Now I just have to decide how to do that. The way I see it, I have two options:
Option #1 - Divide the two stories (modern and ancient) into their own separate books - We've talked about this before, so I won't go over it again.
Option #2 - Intertwine the two plots in a sort of every-other chapter format. If I were to go with this option, after a chapter of the modern story, we would shift into the ancient story, and then back to the modern, and then back to the ancient. This would blend the two together. I would have to craft things in such a way that there were parallels between what's happening in the present and what's happening in the past and I kind of have an idea of how I can pull it off. I've even seen it done well in Spock's World where Diane Duane intersperses a story of Captain Kirk trying to prevent Vulcan from seceding from the Federation with tales of Vulcan's history.
While this could be an intriguing way to do things, I can already see two problems brewing:
For starters, this would require an even more massive rewrite of the modern storyline, more so than if I just divided the ancient and modern stories into their own separate books. We're talking a complete revamp of the characters, the backstories, everything. I'm not saying that it can't be done. I'm not saying I wouldn't do it. I'm just saying that I'm not sure how it would turn out.
Second, and more importantly, maintaining the momentum of the ancient and modern storylines would be even more difficult (as Mir pointed out in her comments). Right now, the modern storyline comes to a screeching halt when the ancient storyline takes over. That's not good. At the same time, though, if I were to interweave the two together, the modern storyline and the ancient storyline would both come to "rolling stops" at the end of each chapter. Instead of one massive "slam on the brakes" moment, we'd have lots of little stops.
As Mir also pointed out, the temptation then would be for the reader to just stick with one storyline and skip the chapters from the other. For example, in Spock's World, when I re-read it, I tend to skip over the chapters about Vulcan's history and just read the story with Kirk and McCoy and Spock and so on. I may go back and read my favorite parts of the history, but by and large I just ignore it.
To craft a story like this would take incredible skill, something I'm pretty sure I don't have. I suppose I could try it and see how it goes, but I'm thinking it'll just wind up an even bigger mess than when I started.
At any rate, I'm thinking the best thing to do right now with The Leader's Song is to follow the advice of my wonderful wife and one of my crit partners. It'll go on the back burner for a few months so I can let it cool and then approach it from a more objective standpoint.
Of course, then the question is, what do I work on in the interim? Do I continue to brand myself as a sci-fi/fantasy writer or do I branch out into other domains? Huh.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
While the book cover describes this as a "thriller", I would say what the spine says is slightly more accurate: "a romantic suspense". Don't get me wrong, the plot, involving smuggling enriched uranium from a former Soviet republic is definitely thrilling, but that plot is secondary to the love story at the heart of this book between FSB agent Roman Novik and missionary Sarai Curtiss.
Sands of Time would appear to be an installment in a series of books with these characters. There were many references to action that took place in the past, so much so that I had the feeling I should be more familiar with them. Don't get me wrong, Susan May Warren does an exemplary job getting the reader up to speed; I really didn't need to read the former books. She brings in the backstory in ways that don't overwhelm the current plot.
It turns out that Roman and Sarai have a history together. She left him thirteen years prior due to Roman's choice of career. Now a coup in Irkutia brings them back together. What information does Sarai have that makes Governor Bedlov want her dead? And can Roman protect her when she is convinced she doesn't need a hero?
Take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt. After all, I'm a guy who just read what is essentially a romance novel, even if it is one with some pretty decent action. The book was enjoyable. I really appreciated what Warren had to say about the Christian vocation (the tension between Sarai and Roman over his career as a soldier highlighted the issue nicely), but Sarai bugged me. A lot. She struck me as very unreasonable at times. Not only that, but the ending felt a little too pat for my tastes. Things got wrapped up a little too quickly. Again, this might be because of that's the way romantic suspense is written; I just wanted a little more action.
If you're into romantic suspense, you probably can't do better than Sands of Time.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Here's the deal. I mentioned my one-sentence summary in a previous post: "A pastor unearths an alien who is searching for grace." That both describes the first book and the overall plot of the trilogy very well. My problem is this: there's both a modern part of the story and a part that spans centuries of ancient history.
Currently, the trilogy is structured like this:
- The Leader's Song: The Rune Enigma -- The modern story starts. About half-way through the book, everything shifts. The modern story is put on hold so the ancient story can unfold.
- The Leader's Song: Exile -- The ancient story resumes where it left off. There is a break to hop back into the modern story about halfway through before going back to the ancient story. When the ancient story winds down, the modern story takes over again.
- The Leader's Song: Return to the Fold -- The last book follows the modern story to its end, but major pieces of what happened in the ancient story color what happens from here on out.
I know those descriptions are kind of generic, but hey, I don't want to give away the entire plot for free, do I?
So you probably see my dilemma. I start the modern story, I put it on pause so the ancient story can play out, then resume the modern story again.
Why did I structure it like this? Well, a couple of reasons. First of all, when I first wrote this story, I wrote it as one long book. After I finished, I realized that it was simply too long and had to be divided up into three parts.
Second, I thought this structure might be a good way to "ease" the reader into the world I created. Rather than just dump them into a world with aliens, I thought I would slowly reveal what's going on ... and then dump them into a world with aliens.
Third, this is the way the idea kind of unfolded for me when I was brainstorming and I never really questioned the way it was.
So why am I questioning it now? Well, as I was getting ready for the ACFW Conference, one of the things I did was get a paid critique from Jeff Gerke of my novel proposal. Mr. Gerke has served as an editor at various Christian publishing houses and is known as an advocate and champion for sci-fi and fantasy. He was very helpful but one of the things he commented on was the structure of my trilogy. He thought it was a bit convoluted. Instead, he suggested dividing the two stories into separate books: the ancient story and the modern story.
A few other people have commented that it might be better to do that as well. A few have said that it's silly to try to ease the reader into the story since it's almost like I'm trying to hide the fact that aliens are involved, something that will be boldly proclaimed either in the cover art or on the back cover copy. I can see where these people are coming from and I've even put some thought into what I would have to do to restructure everything. It could be done.
So why am I so hesitant to do it? A couple of reasons:
First of all, while people have said I should restructure, just as many people have said to leave it the way it is. That's part of my confusion right there.
Second, if I were to restructure, it would wreck big chunks of the modern story. Part of the modern story includes a mystery that could shake Christianity to its very core. A sthe ancient story plays out, it kind of tweaks the mystery a little before a big shocking reveal at the end of the second book (which sets up a nice cliffhanger that I hope is very "Luke, I am your father"-ish). If I restructure the book, the mystery loses its oomph because the reader will know what's going on, thereby taking the teeth out of part of the plot. To be honest, it's what the restructuring would do to the modern story that makes me hesitate the most. I'm not sure how it would play out or even if it could as well as it has.
Third, I'm a little lazy and am scared by the amount of work that would go into the rewrite. There, I said it. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't do the work if I think it'll help; I will. I'm just hesitant to expend all that effort if it isn't really necessary.
I suppose I'll just have to wait and see what Steve Laube and Andy Meisenheimer have to say about it. I'm still waiting to hear from them and probably will be waiting for a while. That's okay. It'll give me more time to mull it all over.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Anyway, on with my ACFW ruminations.
Third, I was amazed at how God was ready to give me little boosts throughout the conference. For example, after finding out that Bethany House is closed to sci-fi, I was feeling pretty glum. Part of it was a death of a dream -- for six years now, one of my daydreams has been to add to Bethany's impressive sci fi resume with my own trilogy. It was kind of hard to see that dream die. Part of it was also frustration with myself for not doing my homework and wasting one appointment. So as I'm feeling blue and rather down on myself and my story, I walked into my Early Bird appointment.
The Early Bird session at ACFW was a definite plus. Colleen Coble and Deborah Raney led this session. Basically the idea was that authors could send them their works-in-progress and have them critique what they were doing. Then in the actual session, we would discuss each others stories and brainstorm about how to pump up the conflict, where to take the stories, that sort of thing. Some of us signed up for small group brainstorming sessions and mine was on Friday afternoon.
So there I am, trudging into hospitality suite 1239, feeling pretty down on myself and my writing. I sit down and the first words out of Deborah and Colleen's mouths were, "We loved this story!" It perked me right up and kept me going.
The same sort of thing happened on Saturday. I had a paid critique with Bryan Davis. He basically "bled all over" the first twelve pages of my book and pointed out some problematic areas. But he too liked the concept of the story and our chat was a great boost for me.
Fourth, I now find myself at a sort of crossroads. Sort of. The one thing I took away from the conference about the current Christian market is the fact that it's pretty much closed to sci-fi. That's not to say that it'll be closed forever but it certainly is right now. That seems to be the bad news. The good news is that while very few Christian publishing houses are looking for fantasy, they won't automatically slam their doors to it either.
So what do I do? I have a Christian sci-fi trilogy, The Leader's Song, that is pretty much complete (the second and third books need some hammering; the first, just some polishing). I've been mulling over another sci-fi book that I'm tentatively calling The Dragon's Heart. While at the conference, I had another sci-fi idea that needs quite a bit of work but could be fun. So I guess on the one hand, I can continue to write books that may never sell.
On the other hand, I do have one or two fantasy ideas that aren't Christian. I've been mulling over one of them for two or three years now and I think I may be ready to start writing it soon. I wish there was some way to inject some Christianity into it, but honestly, I'm not sure how I could. I do have an idea for a fantasy trilogy but that still needs quite a bit of brainstorming to get ready and I'm a bit hesitant to do that.
On the third hand, part of me thinks the way to go is to ditch sci-fi and fantasy for a while. I started a speculative biography about Joesph Caiaphas about a year ago that kind of petered out. I also recently had an idea for a murder mystery set in Slovakia that could be kind of fun (but may not work; it depends upon what conditions in Slovakia were like during the Communist regime). I figured maybe I could make a shift into some different genres, try to get published there, and then go back to sci-fi if/when I become a more established writer. The problem with this is simple: I only have these two non-sci-fi/fantasy ideas. What do I do after these?
I'm really not sure what to do. Do I continue to stumble down the sci-fi path? Do I hop over to the fantasy path? Do I do a complete 180 and go down a path I've never really traveled before? Hmmmm. Well, if you're a reader of my blog or just stumbled on it on your way to something more interesting, please feel free to leave a comment or a suggestion.
Tomorrow I may post another dilemma I've been dealing with lately, namely the structure of The Leader's Song trilogy.
I'm not sure why I haven't been giving it more thought. I think part of it is that the minute I got back to Blue Earth, there was a ton of things to deal with (a parishioner about to cross the Jordan, Jill's best friend's wedding to attend, the usual rigamarol of being a pastor, plus that big "other issue" in my life that I'm still not prepared to discuss at length). I had to dive back into my somewhat regular routine with both feet and haven't had a lot of down time to really process through what I went through. Now, though, let's see here.
For starters, I'm definitely not sorry that I went. It was a very good, very uplifting experience. Like I said before, it was heartening to see that there were a lot of fantasy and sci-fi writers out there trying to crack open the Christian market. Maybe not as many as the romance or mystery writers, but it seemed like every day, more and more of us came out of the woodwork. I even stumbled over a few. Or, rather, they sought me out. Perhaps it's because, as Shannon said, I'm TALL and I was wearing this around my neck:
Second, in some ways, the conference was a bit discouraging. But I guess that goes hand-in-hand with writing sci-fi and fantasy. The good news that I kept hearing is that some publishing houses are beginning to open ever-so-slightly to fantasy. The bad news is the same isn't happening with sci-fi.
Why is that a big deal? Well, let me share the pitch line I had printed on the back of my snazzy business cards:
Now, all is not lost. I was able to send a proposal for said book (actually, for said sci-fi trilogy) to Steve Laube and Andy Meisenheimer of Zondervan and I'm waiting for their replies. I have a feeling it'll be "Thanks, but no thanks", but that's okay. At least I'm in crash position for it.
I seem to have hit my blog's outer limits for length. Tomorrow, more thoughts and maybe I'll even post about the writing dilemma I seem to be facing post-Conference.
But on to the book, Embrace Grace. It was good. How's that for a review? Ha!
In all seriousness, I looked forward to reading this book after hearing Liz Curtis Higgs speak at the ACFW conference. She was phenomenal. Lots of humor, lots of insight, plus a few details that I'm going to steal for sermons in the future. Yes, every pastor does it. It's just that not all of us admit to it.
Grace is essentially a book written about the conversion experience. It encourages the reader to embrace doubt, faith, truth, sin, forgiveness, repentance, and grace as they move from a state of unbelief and "lost in sinness" into a forgiven lifestyle.
I really enjoyed what I read. The chapter that surprised me the most was "Embrace Sin". Just the title alone caught me off guard, but as I read it, I remembered the old Martin Luther quote that we snotty Lutheran pastors like to throw around ... "Sin boldly!" Liz basically repeats what Martin said so many years ago. Hey, truth is truth.
What made me chuckle was when I was in line to get my copy signed by Liz. She asked who the book was for and I said it was me. She smiled at me and told me to ignore the fact that when she addresses the readers, she refers to them as women. And, as a rule, she does. I told her I didn't mind, especially since the New Testament basically contains nothing but references to "brothers". I figured turn-about is fair play!
So there you have it. It was a good book and a quick read. Always two good qualities.