Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Finding the Bigger Fishbowl

One of my kids' favorite books is A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer...I'm sure most of you probably know it. It's that story where a little boy buys a fish at the pet store, and despite the shop keeper's warning, feeds the fish too much, and the fish begins to grow and grow and grow. The boy moves the fish from bowl to pitcher to pot to public swimming pool in order to find a place where the monstrosity he's created can fit. There are illustrations all through this book of a fish that doesn't even have enough room to turn around in whatever container he's occupying. He shifts from oblivious to shocked to dejected.

Authors in the Christian publishing world, in terms of marketing, seem to have this "big fish, little bowl" scenario working against them. Not in the sense that we've outgrown Christian publishing with our writing prowess and sheer market massiveness, but just that there's simply not enough water in Christian publishing in which to swim and find readers. (And let's face it, critics. We need those too, if we're going to grow.I'm of the opinion that the quarters are too close for us to be critics within our own little pond--but that's a whole 'nuther topic.) We keep bumping into the same 250 like-minded fish, with only the rare book reaching outside those circles.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Valor's Worth: Book III of The Windrider Saga, chapter 1 sample

Welcome, old friends and new explorers! Below, you'll find the first chapter of Valor's Worth, the next book in The Windrider Saga, for your preview. Please bear in mind, this is a draft of the chapter, subject to change once my editor gets his mitts on it. For now, I hope you enjoy it. And if you do, consider picking up copies of the stories preceding this one: Divine Summons and A Greater Strength. Both these ebooks can be yours for less than $7--which is less expensive than a single book from a big press.

So, without further ado...

Chapter 1
The Phoenix

We sailed high over the dense pine forests of northeastern Kelmirith, our only companions winging birds, clouds, and wind. The westering sun warmed my cheeks, although its dip below the horizon would soon usher in the frosty chill of a mid-autumn night. Far below, the winding river Nuruhain flashed, a strip of amber glass set alight by the sun’s inevitable demise.
The rhythmic whoosh of Majestrin’s silver wings thrust us forward with both ease and speed, and I grinned. His lithe neck pumped in a slow rhythm with each wing beat, and the topaz glow of the sun played off the reflective surface of his scales. Astride this beast, I became part of both breeze and setting sun.
Our smaller companions, a griffin and a winged lion, flew slightly behind Majestrin and out to his sides, taking full advantage of the path he cut through the force of the headwind. Even so, he drifted almost lazily along, while the griffon and the lion flapped with focus. I called back to their riders.
“This seems as good a region as any to make camp tonight, agreed?”
From the griffon’s back, the dark-skinned North Deklian rider, Hridayesh, leaned around the elf who guided the mount and shouted back. “Can’t you find a village with a decent bed? You’d think elves preferred sleeping on pine needles and moss to a civilized mattress.”
I guffawed. “I find there are fewer bugs on the ground than in the beds of most inns.”
Behind me, my passenger shuddered. “What a disgusting observation.”
“True, nonetheless. I would think of any of us, you would have the deepest objection to sharing your sleeping quarters with fleas, Veranna.”
Veranna sighed. “But now that you’ve brought it up, I’ll spend the whole night imagining phantom legs crawling all over me.”
“Is an over-active imagination a typical half-elven trait?” I asked.
Veranna stuck her nose in the air.
Insufferable, squeamish prophetess. I dismissed my irritation. “Major Galdurith, Sergeant Althoron,” I yelled to the soldiers guiding the lion and griffon. “We shall make our descent.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Purple or Poetic? The Fine Line in Prose

Since I spend about an hour and a half to two hours every day in my car, I use a lot of that time to think and observe. I figure, if I must have a commute that takes away time from my  writing, I can at least use that time to hash out things about or within my stories.

This morning was an observation kind of day. We had thunderstorms last night, which left everything quite wet, and lingering patches of thick haze hung in the air, depending on the elevation or the proximity of low, boggy places along my route. Since I take "the back way" to my job, I spend it driving through the hilly, wooded terrain of southeastern Pennsylvania, a route dotted with covered bridges, venerable fieldstone farmhouses, and mottled sycamores. Today, the sun was rising over the crest of a sloping farmstead, and the sunrise shone through the water droplet-laden grass grass with a silver glow. I fixed that picture in my mind, for use in a later book, I'm sure.

For me, if the description of a setting doesn't paint a vibrant picture of the place, and if the word choice doesn't also convey the feeling a person gets by being in that place, the description is dead weight. Yes, a reader needs to understand the layout of the scene, but in my mind, there's so much more one can do than explain where the tables and chairs sit relative to the stairs and the nearest exit. I love rich descriptions of textures and smells and the color of the light in any given space.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Intimacy with an Audience of Thousands

Recently, I started reading George R R Martin's A Game of Thrones, as part of my quest to read in both the mainstream market as well as within the tinier niche of Christian speculative fiction.  I have not made it far into the book, and am not sure if I will finish it. Certainly, it is well-written, and the depth of the worldbuilding is fascinating, but I hit a speed bump in the chapter where the young teen character, Daenerys Targaryen, is given in marriage to the older Khal Drogo, which is very early in the book. I'll be honest--call me a prude if you must--but I found the on-page depiction of their wedding night squeamishly troubling.

Now, the fact is, if you are looking at the practices of medieval society, a teen-aged girl marrying an older man has plenty of precedent. Just because it seems skeevy to us in our modern-day mentality doesn't necessarily make it a deal breaker for me on this book. The coarse language in the preceding chapters was also a non-issue for me. I don't presume to insist that when men are with men that they're going to act soft and pretty. But the consummation of Daenerys's marriage went over the line for me, so I decided to wrestle a bit with the questions: Why? Where is the line?

The book did not go to the extent of portraying a blow-by-blow progression of intercourse. It did stop short.  But what it did depict, I felt very much like an intruder on a scenario that was private and not meant for anyone but the two people involved. Lately, there's been an argument going around in Christian circles as to whether media depictions of intimacy between married people are acceptable, because hey, the folks are married, so they aren't sinning. I agree, married characters engaged in an intimate encounter are indeed enjoying a great privilege God has bestowed upon husband and wife. But when God created sex, did he create it as something to be shared between two married people and to be witnessed by whoever might find it interesting or exciting?

My ruminations about all this brought me back to the Song of Solomon, since it's probably the most overt depiction of marital intimacy (as God wanted it to be--there are plenty of examples of the misuse of sex all over the rest of the Old Testament) in the Bible. There are obvious allusions to kissing and caressing, and no shortage of admiration by both parties of each other's physical attributes. But seeing as it's poetic, and much of it merely the expression of desires, not a depiction of the actual acts of fulfilling them, it seems to me the Bible text falls in a different category than an on-page depiction of who-touched-what-when and how it felt.

I haven't yet reached a conclusion on this concept, beyond knowing that physical desire between married people is good for them, and that God himself has given us a transcribed picture of a couple's longing for one another and the emotional power behind that. The two passages that seem the most overt to me come in the 7th chapter.
vs 7: "...and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, 'I will climb the palm tree and take hold of its fruit.'"
vs 12: "Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom--there I will give you my love." 

These are clear statements about what the speakers intend--but again, it is only a statement of intent, not a depiction. Any actual "giving of love" is left completely in the white space between verses and chapters. So where does that leave the Christian writer and the Christian audience? In a media-saturated culture where you can view anything from a peck on the cheek to full-blown pornography, where does the Christian draw the line? Do we undermine the power of prose if we limit what we read and write to only what we would be comfortable with anyone seeing us do? Or do we enable a level of unholy voyeurism by depicting anything beyond that?

Your thoughts, if you're comfortable sharing them, are warmly welcomed!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Valor's Worth: Off to the Judge, Jury, and (hopefully not) Executioner

Some inspirational art of Lieutenant Commander Vinyanel Ecleriast and elements I'm batting around for the back cover of the book

Once again, another manuscript has escaped my hands and is now sitting in the likely-crowded inbox of an acquisitions editor. Even though I've had at least a dozen conversations with the powers-that-be at this publishing house, I can't help but have a little bit of trepidation about sending the book out for their ultimate acceptance or rejection. It's sort of like sending your kids into the first day of middle school. Maybe not as traumatic as the first day of Kindergarten, but somehow you know they are going to face new challenges, probably some nitpicking, and definitely some growing pains, and as much as you dread what might befall them, you know it must be done.

Having been down this small publishing road a few times now, I know what I want from the relationship, should the publisher in question decide this book is worth taking a chance on. It's no secret that every book    a publisher takes on is a risk, and my newest Windrider book takes some chances.For one, it's not serial, so it departs from the structure the previous stories have taken--which might bug some readers and will inspire hallelujahs from others. But with the change in format, I do risk an audience shift.

The book is also a little grittier than its predecessors. Certainly not George R R Martin gritty, but there are a couple necessary battle injury elements this book does not shy away from. We'll see if those make it to the final version.

And so, I'm left to wait--one of my severely under-developed author skills. Thankfully, I have Realm Makers conference planning, my family, my day job, closing on a house purchase at the end of the month, and the next book in The Risen Age Archive to keep me busy in the meantime. That should be enough, right?