Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas and Fantasy


'Tis the season to consider what we as Christians feel about Santa Claus.

Now, I know this isn't exactly a classic fantasy discussion here, but it does bear examination. I myself have held a varying opinion on the topic in my lifetime, due mostly to a re-examination of the condition of my soul and how that colors my opinion about Santa.

When my firstborn was very little, we were vehement that we weren't going to perpetuate a "lie" to our children, only to have to tell them that we had been pulling the wool over their eyes, building up the false hope that Santa Claus did indeed show up and leave presents every Christmas eve. As the years have passed and subsequent children have arrived in our family, we've stepped back from that position to a degree, mostly because I felt like it smacked of legalism. Granted, we've never actually said anything about Santa Claus coming to our house, and the kids know full well that mom and dad shop for Christmas presents. We talk about the real Saint Nicholas and other historic figures that inspire the idea of Santa Claus.

And yet, somehow the magic of Christmas has still had its way. My boys still wonder if Santa is real. They look at the red suited man in the mall and ask me if he's the real deal. Me, I just shrug and say, "What do you think?" While I'm not using Santa as the nebulous threat or motivator that I know some parents laugh at themselves for doing, I'm also not squashing the little ones' imaginations on it either.

This all brings me to the point I'm trying to make. Where does imagination begin to supplant faith? Can Santa and Jesus inhabit the same holiday without an appearance of hypocrisy?

I heard a speaker recently on just a snippet of the radio program Family Life Today, and on that show they talked about how the story of Santa Claus points to the giving love, the living out of the Christian life that Saint Nicholas and subsequently, Santa Claus can represent. As long as we frame Santa Claus in the bindings of Christ's love, and how giving is an act of love, I think we can leave some room for some fun and imagination.

However, should the pretty boxes under the tree begin to supplant the most important Gift of Christmas (which it is easy to have that happen) much is suddenly lost. Joy becomes replaced with the much more nebulous "happiness." (Think of the root of that word, and how it shares meaning with "mishap" or "happenstance.") Agape, giving love gets pushed out of its seat by materialism. These are the issues of Christmas I want to avoid, and I've come to the conclusion that Santa isn't at the heart of them.

So, readers, tell me: What do you think about Santa Claus? Does he have any place in a Christian observance of Christmas?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Last Marcher Lord Select Post

Well, it's official. As of about 1 am the morning of the 16th, I discovered that The Sword of the Patron did not make the cut for the finals of Marcher Lord Select.

But as I've been saying in all my other internet "hang outs," I cannot say I am battling any sense of disappointment over it. Maybe it will set in later. Maybe not

What I do come away with from the whole thing is that I have a healthy number of people who would stand behind my book. Maybe not enough to run away with a contest on Jeff Gerke's forum, but enough to encourage me that my story is one people will read and enjoy. Does it still need work? Of course. I don't know that any novel is ever really done. You just eventually stop working on it. (Hopefully that stopping point connects to a publishing contract.)

So, now I'm faced with the question...do I dive into rewrites now? Do I focus solely on finishing my serial for Digital Dragon, the come back to SOTP? Do I switch gears entirely and write a short story to submit to Port Yonder Press' Elves Anthology that wants entries in January?

Never a shortage of choices.

The one choice that is not on the table, however, is giving up. A few sweet encouragers have said to me "Don't quit! Hold your head high!" to which I can only smile and say, "Quit? Of course not!" The road is just beginning to wind ever on and on for this tale, and I look forward to seeing where it leads.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Okay, in an effort to avoid boring all of you to tears with continued blathering about Marcher Lord Select, I'll make a single, short announcement about that, and then blog about something entirely different.

The Sword of the Patron has officially moved into phase three of the Marcher Lord Select Contest, now standing amidst a field of eight semi-finalists contending for the prize of publication in the spring of 2010. As you can imagine, I'm very excited, but doubly as thankful to those of you who have voted. I exhort you to keep voting! The margins have been extremely tight between winners to those eliminated, so every single vote counts.

Now, onto other subjects.

The Language Barrier

I was watching Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring (yes, for about the gabillionth time) and a new thought struck me with reference to my writing. As the Uruk Hai brought their particular brand of mayhem to the fracturing fellowship, their chieftain bellows, "Find the halflings!" Now, this isn't so remarkable on its own, but the context of my writing struggle highlighted this moment for me.

Now, of course in movieland, people tend to all speak the same language for the sake of the viewer, and we all sort of have to suspend our disbelief on that. (The occasional sojourns into elvish with English subtitles is another matter, but I won't get into that right now.) So, rather than yell in orcish, the Uruk Hai yells, "Find the halflings." That way, the viewer knows of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin's impending danger, in case they forgot that was the whole reason the orc had shown up. (Of course, being created by Saruman, perhaps one could argue that the language of men was the Uruk Hai's first language and thus the logical tongue for the orcs to use, but I'm not deep enough in movie/Middle Earth lore to know.)

The point it brought up in my mind still stands, though. Languages are a sticky wicket in fantasy writing. In my short stories, I've been dealing with a couple of vastly different races, and since I'm writing from mostly my protagonist's point of view, this has created some interesting writing situations. He wouldn't speak the language of my "bad guys." So, anything the reader needs to know can't come out of the mouths of those bad guys. We're experiencing the story through the eyes and ears of Captain Vinyanel Ecleriast, elf, so what he knows, we know.

Other story franchises have dealt with this in different ways. In Star Trek (TNG), for instance, we get the concept of the Universal Translator. In some stories...older ones, of course, since this is now the mark of literary leprosy...the author wrote from a 3rd person omniscient POV. That let the reader be in anyone's head the author needed him to be to understand what was going on. But, given these options are not among those I might choose, instead I have to decide: do I keep my protagonist, and hence my reader, in the dark? Do I swtich POV characters for a time so that I can get some bad guy-to-bad guy conversation on the page for the sake of building tension? I've done both so far, and I wonder if there are other options I'm overlooking.

I suppose I could design the entire language of any creature I'm going to use, write the passages in their own language, and then include a dictionary of each language at the back of the book for the reader's amusement. (Actually, no, I couldn't. Not in a hundred lifetimes!)

But, all in all, the challenge of multiple races and even more multitudinous languages in my "world" has given me quite the maze to run through as I try to unfold the stories of my characters doings. And all the while I think about it, I can't help but muse...the things that go on inside my head! How completely baffled would the average Joe be if he could hear them?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Round Two Voting

Here we go!

The voting for Marcher Lord Select: Round Two began early. The polls for both the Premise Contest and the Main Contest (In which The Sword of the Patron competes) went live Friday at about 9:30 pm.

So, if you're voting in this one, you can do so any time over the weekend until midnight on Monday. Once again, the contest requires that you vote for 3 selections for your vote to count, so enjoy picking at least three of your favorites.

Will Danae's story live on to phase three, where voters and contestants alike will get to read the first thirty pages of the stories that remain? If it does, I don't think you will be disappointed with the mix of action and character depth you'll find in those pages.

Technical information:
Go to www.wherethemapends.proboards.com to find the contest of the forum called "The Anomaly." All contest rules and polls are posted under the top message board called "Marcher Lord Select."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Keeping it clean

Over the past week, there's been some dust kicked up over in the world of Romance Novels (don't worry, I'm not shifting the focus of this blog from fantasy to romance...just using the current debate as a jumping-off point!)

Anyway, agent Chip MacGregor and author Ted Dekker seem to be at loggerheads concerning an imprint of Harlequin called Love Inspired, which takes submissions for very "clean" Christian Romance. Love Inspired, on their site, has a very detailed list of what words they will not allow to appear in manuscripts they publish.

If you want to browse the list, look at this

Now, Mr. Dekker went a little nuts about the "narrowness" of this list, and Mr. MacGregor came back with a scathing rebuttal, but without getting into their arguments, how does this apply to Christian Fantasy?

I think the ideology is something we all have to consider when we talk about books of any genre that bear the prefix "Christian." Just how pristine should the text be? Does an author sacrifice believability for the sake of keeping certain, possibly offensive words from their text?

With specific reference to fantasy, one place I have wrestled with the idea of "purity of prose" is in the fact that my book does portray a few people in desperate socio-economic situations, and the questionable behavior that births. Granted, this behavior isn't the action of my protagonist, just something she observes on her journey through parts of the world she's never before seen. I use the brief, darker images in order to paint a sense of danger to the protagonist, and I think my book would suffer if a publisher told me, "No, you can't have those prostitutes on the corner in that scene." I also use the word "harlot" in book two, but I would like to hope the lesson Praesidio teaches by using it would give the word a pass, even in the world of Christian publishing.

Another difficult spot in fantasy is the propensity for it to contain sword fights and the like. Just how far do you go in the portrayal of violence? One of my biggest pet peeves in fantasy reading is when the embattled protagonist spend the entire fight graphically decapitating, disemboweling and otherwise devastating the anatomy of his opponents, while he quips and chortles his way through the endeavor. No matter how "easy" the fight, I would think there's a degree to which the battle gets those "fight or flight" chemicals going. And if you want the protagonist to be sympathetic to a Christian audience, do you really want to paint him as so desensitized to gory killing? Even if you're slaying the denizens of hell itself, it seems inappropriate to me that you would be flip about it.

That particular rant aside, there still remains the issue of how detailed a battle should be. Should Christian fantasy contain detailed accounts of how much blood, which organs, every sword stroke? For The Sword of the Patron, I decided not. I pray that they way I wrote the battles are still exciting and full of tension, despite the fact that I neglected to inform my reader of just how each villain who dies meets his end.

For the final consideration I'll toss out for consideration, I offer the conundrum of the protagonist who begins the story unfamiliar, or even antagonistic to the things of God. Do you write that protagonist "clean" anyway? Is there a way to depict this lost character that is believably "of the world" without offending the majority of your readership, or worse yet, casting an ill light on Christianity by what you, the author, has decided gets a pass?

All in all, while I find the list on Love Inspired's guidelines page pretty confining, the spirit in which the list was created is something I think all of us, as authors and readers, need to consider. To simply write to the opposite end of the spectrum, under the banner of being "real" doesn't hit the mark for me either. While I want my story to resonate with my readers because it contains believable conflict, I would not want to write that conflict in a way that grieves my Heavenly Father. After all, even if no mortal ever reads what I write, He will know what I have poured onto the page, and first and foremost, I want him to be proud of every word I have chosen, and the reasoning by which I have chosen them.

Monday, November 16, 2009

End of Round One

It's with my humble thanks that I inform all of you the outcome of the first round of voting for Marcher Lord Select. It appears that my book, The Sword of the Patron, has garnered enough votes to make it through to round 2! For each an every one of you who took the time to participate in the voting, I offer my deep appreciation. When Jeff Gerke explained that the last slot to advance came down to a single vote, an author can't help but heave a sigh of relief. My congratulations to my co-competitors who have advanced, and my applause to those who submitted but did not move on. It takes perseverance to finish a novel, and bravery to hold it out for public scrutiny. Everyone involved has enjoyed a victory on one level or another.

A part of me wondered if I ought to contact Jeff Gerke, as he said if we wanted to know specifically how our books fared, that we were welcome to ask. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, "Why?" Whether I came in 1st, 18th or anywhere in-between, would that change the fervor with which I will campaign of my story in the coming rounds? It certainly shouldn't. Therefore, I will pour all the passion I have into the continuing contest, and may that passion ignite the interest of voters. And may the excerpts of the actual novels people now get to read exceed the voters' expectations, that any one of them might be proud to cast their lot with me.

All that being said, here are the business items:

The first 500 words of the remaining books in the "Main Contest" will go live on http://wherethemapends.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=mlsphase1 sometime on either the 16th or the 17th.

Readers will have about 2 weeks to read these excerpts and choose their favorites
I will be sure to let you all know the date and time the voting for round 2 will go live.

While I am overjoyed to have made it this far, it is only the beginning of the journey. I pray you will continue to walk along side me as far as this road will bear us. And invite friends to join the adventure. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ever closer

The countdown has wound to a scant few days before the voting will begin over at Marcher Lord Select. This may be one of the longest weekends of my life, barring the two times I went 3 days overdue with babies who seemed content to remain within the safety of the womb.

But just as those sons of mine eventually made their way into the light of the outside world, so shall this coming weekend pass, and to what end, who can say? I have several loyal readers (dare I call them fans while I am still unpublished?)who promise their votes, and a few readers I have not yet met who have stated their intention to vote for my novel over on the message boards at The Anomaly, but the truth of the matter is that the many, many voters who have remained silent insofar will determine the outcome of this round of voting. My continual prayer has been that I will make it past round one, but then I keep amending that to say that whatever the Lord's will is in this, that I will have the wisdom, courage and maturity to face that outcome with grace and dignity. It's all a good exercise in realizing just how few of life's outcomes are really in our hands. For the person who has no God to trust with these inescapable uncertainties, I feel a deep sense of compassion. For myself, I am so glad that all that matters rests in the hands of my mighty Creator and Maker, a personal God who holds back nothing that is in our best interest.

So, let the weekend come. It will test me as the tempest tests the galleon that weathers it. I'll see you on the other side.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Quick Update

Hello, Fans of Speculative Fiction!

Well, it has begun...the opportunity to read the 30+ contenders for a spot on Marcher Lord Press' spring release list is up at www.wherethemapends.proboards.com. If you're so inclined to help choose the book Marcher Lord Press puts into print, you'll have to create a free account, and then at the top of the forums, you'll be able to access the Marcher Lord Select boards. Be warned, you must vote for three entries, so the contest won't be heavily weighted by folks who just drop in to vote for somebody they know and really don't invest in the process.

There's a pretty wide range of offerings in the fray, for sure. I, as an author, am permitted to vote, and how hard is it to choose the two books I will vote for along side my own!? Having a part in choosing one's own competition is daunting, to say the least.

It has been interesting to watch the guidelines of the contest unfold, as Jeff Gerke, the mastermind behind it all, tries to figure out how to mitigate human nature, basically. How to keep the contest form becoming solely about who can drag the largest number of their acquaintances over to the forum and force their click on the right entry, or how to head off any sneaky ways people might find ways to cheat. (I'll admit, some of those strategies have cropped up in the back of my own mind, and boy are they hard to ignore! I just keep reminding myself that in the long run, any paltry effort I might make to pad my vote count will probably fall far short of boosting my numbers above the other competitors, especially if my work doesn't speak for itself. All I'll succeed in doing is setting myself up for a bad reputation. So not worth it!)

But no matter what happens, the next couple of weeks are bound to be exciting! My prayer is that my blurbs on the forum right now speak for themselves and carry me into the next phase of the contest, where you readers will get a better feel for the actual writing in my novel.

So, if you think The Sword of the Patron deserves to have a beautiful cover and a spot on the bookshelves of the wide world, do go to the forums at WheretheMapEnds.com and cast your vote accordingly. No matter what happens, I keep reminding myself that the Lord has carried me this far, and He has planned how it will all turn out. I pray I have the strength of character to manage whatever outcome He deems proper.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming...

Hello friends of Christian Speculative fiction!

I know I said I was going to come back here and make some comments about our local production of Dracula, but I had to push that to another burner for a moment,due to an exciting development in my journey towards publication for my novel, The Sword of the Patron.


Below, you'll find a press release form Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press, the publisher that currently has my manuscript. I have received my formal invitation to participate in the votes-based contest you'll read about below. Since The Sword of the Patron is my first novel-length work, I am humbled and honored to be in the running for publication through this contest.

October 17, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Marcher Lord Press Announces Marcher Lord Select

(Colorado Springs, CO)--Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction, today announced the debut of a revolution in fiction acquisitions.

"Marcher Lord Select is American Idol meets book acquisitions," says publisher Jeff Gerke. "We're presenting upwards of 40 completed manuscripts and letting 'the people' decide which one should be published."

The contest will proceed in phases, Gerke explains, in each subsequent round of which the voters will receive larger glimpses of the competing manuscripts.

The first phase will consist of no more than the book's title, genre, length, a 20-word premise, and a 100-word back cover copy teaser blurb. Voters will cut the entries from 40 to 20 based on these items alone.

"We want to show authors that getting published involves more than simply writing a great novel," Gerke says. "There are marketing skills to be developed--and you've got to hook the reader with a good premise."

Following rounds will provide voters with a 1-page synopsis, the first 500 words of the book, the first 30 pages of the book, and, in the final round, the first 60 pages of the book.

The manuscript receiving the most votes in the final round will be published by Marcher Lord Press in its Spring 2010 release list.

No portion of any contestant's mss. will be posted online, as MLP works to preserve the non-publication status of all contestants and entries.

Participating entrants have been contacted personally by Marcher Lord Press and are included in Marcher Lord Select by invitation only.

"We're also running a secondary contest," Gerke says. "The 'premise contest' is for those authors who have completed a Christian speculative fiction manuscript that fits within MLP guidelines and who have submitted their proposals to me through the Marcher Lord Press acquisitions portal before October 29, 2009."

The premise contest will allow voters to select the books that sound the best based on a 20-word premise, a 100-word back cover copy teaser blurb, and (possibly) the first 500 words of the book.

The premise contest entrants receiving the top three vote totals will receive priority acquisitions reading by MLP publisher Jeff Gerke.

"It's a way for virtually everyone to play, even those folks who didn't receive an invitation to compete in the primary Marcher Lord Select contest."

Marcher Lord Select officially begins on November 1, 2009, and runs until completion in January or February 2010. All voting and discussions and Marcher Lord Select activities will take place at The Anomaly forums (http://wherethemapends.proboards.com/index.cgi?) in the Marcher Lord Select subforum. Free registration is required.

"In order for this to work as we're envisioning," Gerke says, "we need lots and lots of voters. So even if you're not a fan of Christian science fiction or fantasy, I'm sure you love letting your voice be heard about what constitutes good Christian fiction. So come on out and join the fun!"

Marcher Lord Press is a Colorado Springs-based independent publisher producing Christian speculative fiction exclusively. MLP was launched in fall of 2008 and is privately owned. Contact: Jeff Gerke; www.marcherlordpress.com.


So, there you have it. I would be further humbled and deeply grateful if you and any friends you can drag with you would head over to www.wherethemapends.com and cast a your votes to usher The Sword of the Patron into print.

And I promise, I'll get back to Dracula soon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Drawing the Line

Let's face it, it's something we all have to do. We have to decide what we believe honors God--what we will allow into our minds and subsequently, our hearts. The world is rife with entertainment that looks innocuous at first glance, but will slowly poison the soul. It's also full of garbage that looks horrible from as little as the thirty second teaser that pops up during commercial breaks for other programming. I'm thankful for those horrific blurbs. They save me a lot of time in deciding what I can absolutely avoid.

What I want to address today, however, are the instances where the line is blurrier. In my recent experience, one of these foggy places had to do with my husband's participation in a local stage production of Dracula.

I realize that the vampire has made a comeback, with the overwhelming popularity of the Twilight series. I admit, I know next to nothing about Stephenie Meyer's phenomenon, since I have no fascination with vampire stories, and have never followed the genre. The craze isn't new, though. Ann Rice had her heyday, I believe starting with her Interview with the Vampire, written in the 70's but propelled to becoming a household word by the 1994 film. And I'm sure there were other surges of vampire lore that came up just about every decade before. (Given Anne Rice's current body of work, I should probably familiarize myself with more of what she's done, but I digress.)

What I'm saying here is that the vampire, like so many other denizens of the speculative sub-genres, sees the spotlight in cycles, and I think that has a lot to do with why our local theater chose Dracula for this year's fall production. Whether or not any spiritual consideration went into the choice, I have no idea, but in the reading of the script, the spiritual content is there. The power of God to overcome evil, forgiveness, all of our need for salvation...it lingers in the subtext, and sometimes even the outright spoken word of the play, and it's for this reason I can say I came to grips with my husband taking a role in the show.

Many Christians might not agree with our choice in having my husband participate in the production. They all have to draw their lines for themselves, and if any naysayer has a biblical reason he'd like to discuss with us as to whether we have misstepped, I'd gladly hear it. One undeniable benefit of the experience, however, is that his belonging to this cast has given my husband the chance to rub elbows with some folks who were ready to engage in a spirited debate about the matters of faith in the play, as well as his walk with the Lord. Through a carefully chosen secular vehicle, I believe my husband has encountered a chance to speak freely about the gospel. In that regard, he's doing immensely better than I am in furthering the gospel. Real world interaction and honest debate are powerful tools in shedding light on the gospel to those who haven't considered it beyond a passing familiarity.

So, once again, the challenge of being "in the world but not of it" rears it's head, and we all have to search the scriptures and our souls as to what this means in daily living. We also have to decide how our passions, interests and talents can be used in the context of the world to show others that there is something immeasurably greater that lies beyond our daily experience. Whether this production of Dracula raises any of those questions to the audience, I don't know, but I'll find out this weekend, and perhaps post a review of the show here. But what I do know is what went on behind the scenes, in the context of dressing room conversations, and that itself had eternal value.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Building of a World

I'm going to be honest here. I'm typing right now because the great, unwritten rules of blogging say one must update with some degree of regularity, or else risk perpetual anonymity. So here I am, doing my "butt in chair" time, as other writers I've read call it. The difference between the professional and the hobbyist, so I'm told, is the dedication to do something even when you're not feeling particularly inspired.

So, what should I talk about when my inspiration is a at an ebb? Perhaps inspiration itself would be a good topic, specifically, the muse that eggs on many a fantasy writer: world building.

I am a proponent of world building before you sit down to bang out that first story. Not that details won't come to a writer as he crafts a tale, but from my own experience, the writing of my fantasy trilogy has been eased greatly by the fact that my world was in place long before I endeavored to write stories in it. I see it as an equivalent to what the writer of historical fiction accomplishes through research. Knowing the "facts" about your world allows you to reveal them through your story, and prevents you from bogging down as you write. Who wants to stop in the middle of an exciting conflict between the heroine and the cock-of-the-walk knight in order to come up with the in and outs of the protocol of your knighthood? Or how will you convince your reader that your system of magic is believable if you yourself don't know exactly how it works?

A lot of what I know about world building, I'll admit I learned from writing my own campaign setting for role playing games. If you're running a game and you're unprepared, you end up having to make up people and places on the fly. Typically, you end up defaulting to your comfort zone when you do that,and you end up with a bunch of characters, places and events that are all painted the same color, if you follow my analogy. Every townsperson ends up a surly, unhelpful curmudgeon, or every building is a tudor wattle and daub cottage with windowboxes, every gnome is a prankster...you get the picture. Just like you wouldn't paint every room, the furniture and decorative accessories in your home the same shade of red, you don't want to offer up a flat, monochromatic world, either.

Aside from a lack of originality, writing before you build the world serves up another risk: implausibility. Now, don't confuse implausibility with a lack of realism. Fantasy writing allows for a great deal of unrealistic stuff going on, but if all of those fantastic elements don't seem to "fit," if the world around them is not crafted in such a way that they seem a natural outgrowth of the atmosphere, then you're going to lose readers. Even if you never get the chance to explain the nitty gritty details of how the race of centaurs came into allegiance with the elves and often serve as city guardsmen, you had best know that backstory, because in subtle ways, it will infiltrate your writing and make your world more convincing.

And incidentally, I don't recommend you try to explain every nitty gritty detail either. If the element doesn't advance your story, resist the urge to saddle your readers with all the cool details you've assembled. Otherwise, you'll quickly end up with a 250,000 word book that no publisher in his right mind would consider binding together into one volume. Not to mention, much of said book will read much like a long slideshow of your vacation, forced upon people who were not there and could not care less.

Well, I started out this post with no idea where I would begin, and now I find I could go on and on. But I won't. We all know if you readers have to scroll down too much, you bail on a blog post. (I'm guilty of the same.) But this blog post has taught me a couple of things. Firstly, if you you just start writing, the words will come (eventually.) Secondly, the process of worldbuilding is a huge, complex beast. Far too lumbering to contain in a single blog post. We'll see if the muse demands I say more on it next time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Some self promotion, I admit it

Alright, I'll come clean right at the top here...a big part of why I have started this blog is in an effort to gain some visibility as I zero in on my goal of publication for my fantasy trilogy of novels The Call of the Creator Series. Book One, The Sword of the Patron, is nearing submission to publishers...Lord willing, by the end of September.

But besides editing those novels, I've also been trying my hand at some shorter fiction, and the bulk of this post will be with regard to that endeavor.

For the past couple months, I've been chattering occasionally about a few short stories I've submitted to a new web-zine at www.digitaldragonmagazine.net. The editor has been very complimentary of my submissions, accepting the first two stories and even asking me to take the characters and setting and expand it into serial fiction.

And so, the continuing saga of "The Windrider" has been born. On the first of every month for about the next year (at least that's my sketchy plan at the moment), I will offer a new installment of the story of Vinyanel Ecleriast, Captain of the High Elven Cavalry and his journey from ordinary soldier to Commander of a wholly new division of highly specialized warriors who will take to the skies in the defense of their people.

The stories themselves will expound upon the journey of spiritual maturity Vinyanel must undertake in order to be fit for his new post. An overarching plot centering on a struggle between good and evil over an otherworldy chalice will bind the stories together and pepper them with a little good old fashioned "Sword and Sorcery." The complex and often stormy relationship between Vinyanel and his mentor, a Prophetess of Creo, will add plenty of conflict, even when there are no "bad guys" on the scene. And what High Fantasy story would be complete without at least one dragon?

So, if you like fantasy, I hope you will take a moment once a month to stop by DDM and see what happens next in the continuing tale. And while you're there, you might just run across a few stories from some other talented spinners of yarns as well.

In the news:
August, 2009: The inaugural story, "The Windrider", gets published on www.digitaldragonmagazine.net
September, 2009: Part 2, "The Facets of Might," goes live

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Yet Another Hot Button

I realize this is a little departure from my professed focus of Christian Fantasy Writing, but it's still a topic that bears discussion.

If you think that being a reader or writer of Christian fantasy fiction invited suspicious stares from the non-fantasy-reading world, try admitting to being both a Christian and a role playing game enthusiast. Role playing games (which shall be abbreviated RPGs from here) certainly have what the general populace regards as a "weird" following. I'll be the first to admit, gamers aren't ordinary. They spend Saturday afternoons huddled around a big table with a grid map, miniatures, stacks of rulebooks and resources, polygon dice and wild imaginations at work, rather than heading to the ballpark,mowing the lawn, or whatever other "normal" task their non-gaming counterparts may undertake on that same day. Or perhaps they take up residence in front of their computers for a few hours for a journey into another world.

Now, why is it that this past-time invites ridicule, or sometimes even venomous attacks from the non-role-playing community? Sadly, some of the vitriol is earned. People have made the news for neglecting their responsibilities in favor of escaping to their fictitious world of choice. Some gaming systems, and hence their players, glorify evil in any number of ways. Some people have forsaken real-world relationships for the construction of alter egos that exist only in a game. But are these poster children for "Why RPGs are evil" the majority? I would argue that those who choose to let a game take over their lives are few and far between.

But these are the gamers the outside world hears about in the media, reported on largely by people who have never seen the actual events of an RPG. The truth of the matter is, if you live a troubled "real" life, then you will abuse, exploit, over indulge in something, chances are. An obsession with sports, cars, wealth, or whatever else a mainstream person may latch onto simply doesn't garner as much attention, as these obsessions seem less "bizarre" to the general populace.

Now, to get even more focused on the problem, RPG's face another level of conflict in circles of "churched" people. There are people in every congregation who are quick to site "those kids who got so into RPG's that they committed suicide when their characters died" or "those sourcebooks with real occult spells in them." The first falls under the argument I made in the previous paragraph, the second falls to the discernment of the player.

I completely agree that if you want to call yourself both a Christian and a Gamer, you need to watch your step with which gaming system you use, and where you put your support and money. Systems that promote evil behavior among players, skirt too close to making flippant use of occult elements, or riddle their pages with art that profanes a Christian's sense of modesty should be avoided, in my opinion. But is the practice of essentially writing a collaborative story where multiple people have a hand in what the characters of that story will do, in and of itself, questionable?

I say no. If the character are working together toward an admirable goal, if the delineation between good an evil is discernible, if evil behavior has consequences, then I believe the RPG has a job to do. It can grow imaginations. It can offer fun social interaction between a group of good friends.

Like any pastime, when kept in perspective and enjoyed in moderation, the RPG needn't draw the ire of the Christian Community. Most people will never resonate with the past-time, and that's fine. We Christian RPGers just need to make sure that we live our lives beyond reproach, and always make sure we do not grieve God with anything we do in the name of fun. The RPG, like every other form of entertainment in this country, needs the Lord's people to hold their ground, and keep the tide of evil from washing over the entire activity.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fantasy Fiction and the Ultimate Victory

While attending the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference this weekend, one of my teachers, Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press, ( http://www.marcherlordpress.com/ ) said something that really struck me as a topic that begs for deeper reflection. Well, to be honest, he said about 453,000 things that beg for deeper reflection, but I'll just take a stab at one for now.

This one statement that struck me went something like this: Fantasy, as a genre, may have the greatest potential to convey a Christian message of any fiction that is being published today. Why is that? Mostly, it has to do with the fact that fantasy tends to deal with very black-and-white delineation between ultimate good and absolute evil. Where else can a writer paint a story with those "brushes", so to speak? In an age where society wants to homogonize all thoughts and theories into a cask of gray neither-here-nor-there philosophy, we, the fantasy writers and readers, still hold the ground of calling good "good" and evil "evil". Sure, our good characters will make mistakes, have flaws, and sometimes even choose to do what's wrong, for what story would be interesting if no one ever wrestled in this contest for the soul?

The fact still remains, however, that at the core of most fantasy plot threads, there is a sense of right and wrong that exists outside of what the characters tell themselves is true. In a time when relativism is the supposed wisdom of the enlightened world, I believe it is of dire importance that we fantasy enthusiasts continue to dig our trenches and state that we will not allow the tide of ambivalence overtake us. Fantasy has the power to capture the imagination, and into the hearts and minds of the reader, plant the seed that we do not ultimately decide what is good. That label has existed from the foundation of the world, and we did not ascribe it.

May we continue to offer glimpses of the divine reality that Good will ultimately overcome evil. Whatever struggles come along that way, we have that promise to lean on. And may what we read and write also depict that struggle and echo the hope of that final destiny.

I invite your comments and reflection on this as well! Post your thoughts and invite your friends to do the same.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Highs and Lows

Fantasy, as a genre, splinters into a gaggle of subgenres, the definitions of which vary from source to source. The two subgenres I'd like to deal with today, through the goggles of this Christian worldview I keep mentioning, are High Fantasy and Low Fantasy.

First, let's start off with a couple of simple definitions, for the sake of beginning the discussion on common ground. Low Fantasy, simply put, is fantasy that takes place in what we all know as the "real world", in real places you can find on a map here on planet earth, or at least put in a general geographic region between real places. High Fantasy, on the other hand, takes place in a wholly invented place, like J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth.

I, personally, prefer High Fantasy, not only for the experience of being transported to something vastly different than what I find around me in suburban Pennsylvania, but also, because spiritually, I find dealing with a fictional universe less problematic.

There are many popular fantasy series' being written today that take place in discernable "real world" locations, and the reason I struggle with this kind of writing is the fact that people in fantasy typically derive their power from a system of "magic". To choose empowerment from some sort of otherworldly source in a universe where Jesus should be an option for the characters strikes me as too stark a depiction of choosing something ungodly over the Truth of our Universe. When you deal with our world, fictional magic smacks a little of at least ignoring, and at the worst, rejecting Christ and his transfroming power in our lives.

Now, some folks will go so far as to say Low Fantasy novels invite exploration of the occult, but I find that very much of what is written as Low Fantasy (at least what I've read, and I don't spend much time on it, to be honest) uses what I'll refer to as "hokus pokus", which doesn't even faintly resemble true occult. But this topic could easily spin into a whole 'nuther post, so I'll decide at some future daye if I want to tackle that. It will suffice to say that the "magic" employed in most Low Fantasy doesn't bother me so much as the setting it occurs in.

So, why do I find High Fantasy preferable? Again, on the simplest terms, in a fictional setting where there is no Christ for the characters to reject, I can immerse myself in the workings of that universe with fewer nagging, disquieting questions. Now, if that fictional universe incorporates allegorical elements that either directly or indirectly speak of scriptural truth, then mores the better, at least for me.

Having laid out these two contrasting approaches, it occurs to me that there is a third option, which is Low Fantasy that incorporates faith in Christ in its inner workings. I want to make a goal of finding some books that attempt this, simply to see how an author has handled such an idea. I, myself, can't get my head around a book set in otherwise historic anywhere, with the truth of scripture underpinning it, that also throws in Sword and Sorcery elements or mythical creatures. It's certainly something worth exploring.

My preferences aside, the lables "High" and "Low" fantasy, while we might be tempted to label one as Elevated and one Not-So-Inspired, I believe we'd make a grave error in doing so. To me, the greater goal is to take whatever setting you as an author choose and to spin a compelling tale that captivates your readers, leaving them a little different in their hearts than they were when they began the journey through your tale.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fantasy in the Crossfire

Among Christians, it's true that fantasy divides people into a lot of camps. There are people who assert that if something isn't true, (citing the definition in Phillippians 4:8*) that at the very least, it isn't worthy of the time it takes to read it; at worst, it leads down a path to damnation. There are folks who say as long as the fantasy functions as an unmistakable Christian allegory that can be aligned seamlessly with scripture, then it's acceptable. There are people who feel that as long as the story isn't rife with promiscuity and flagrant glorifying of the occult, then it flies with them. And of course, there are all shades in-between.

Myself, I fall a little to one side of the folks who support allegory. In my own work, I strive to interweave concepts and themes that are God honoring. Are they specifically trying to teach theology or scripture? No. Will there be people who bluster at me because what I am writing doesn't paint an exact picture of the God of our universe? Probably. But am I losing sleep over that? No.

The reason is this: I write because when God created man, he breathed his image into Adam, and I believe as part of that has blessed us all with some degree of our Creator's love of creating. But in what I write, I realize that there is simply no way to please everyone. Even in a single church body, you will find a wide spectrum of what people believe about, say, the Harry Potter series. Some will condemn them as the gateway to real-life witchcraft, while others will dismiss such claims and swear the books are innocuous entertainment. And a wide host of people, who have never read word one of the books, will attach themselves to one opinion or another, feeling that they should at least have a position. Now, I realize that Rowling's series is a secular example, but I have found that similar attitudes crop up when dealing with Christian authors. (Except maybe Tolkien and Lewis, who get larger passes than most. But who can, or should, be them?)

So, as you've probably guessed, I'm not somebody who feels you need to write specifically about Jesus to provide a Christian with worthwhile reading material. I do pray that by writing about concepts that reflect some of God's nature, that perhaps I will point either a pre-believer or a shaky one toward the one God of this world. While that's not the end goal of my writing, it certainly is a worthy aim to include.

In the process, I remind myself that we live at war, and sometimes we Christians struggle to all fight on the same side. But despite what high emotions Christian fantasy elicits among Christ's people, I believe if the Lord has given someone a story to tell, then He, in His wisdom, knows how He will use it.





*Philippians 4:8 (New International Version)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Welcome

I'm so pleased that your journeys have led you here, and I hope that you will hang up your coat, take off your shoes, and join me for a while at the fireside. In this place, I hope to engage friends, both old and new, in the rapt discussion of what makes fantasy so appealing. Better yet, I pray we will explore together how fantasy fiction can bring glory to the one who created imagination when he breathed his image into man.

Who am I, and why do I spend the time thinking about these things? My name is Becky Minor, and I am the aspiring author of a Christian Fantasy Series called The Call of the Creator. Book One: The Sword of the Patron nears its great and fearsome entrance into the quest for a publisher (more on that at the end of the summer), Book Two: The Voice Within, which concludes the adventures of Book One, has an appointment with deep scrutiny, editing and expansion, and Book Three (as yet untitled) has begun to rattle around in my head, dropping bits and pieces of its plot into my path when it deems convenient. (Which is usually when I am far from a computer to pitter pat it down!)

Besides writing, I am the wife to the man the Lord destined for me; I am the mother of three boys who have not yet gotten old enough to have more than a single digit in their ages. I am a homeschooler. (Quite possibly the most distracted homeschooler on the planet, may my children forgive me.) I am an illustrator, was once an animator of the old pencil-and-paper variety, a singer by association. Did I miss anything? Probably. I am an endless dabbler, for certain. If any of this sounds interesting enough to read about at your leisure, I invite you to follow along my artistic adventures.

So please, stop back for a visit when you're in the neighborhood, or follow along how you see fit. Every journey is better with comrades.

Blessings