Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pre-NaNoWriMo Rush/Important News

Hey, folks, gonna make this quick. Two things.
1) NaNoWriMo is in four days. I'm just now working on my plot for The Voice of God. *headdesk*
2) I FINISHED THE PROPHECY OF EINARR. In case you didn't know, Book Two of The Prophecies was left unfinished from last year's NaNo; I finished it at midnight last night. It's 61,554 words long, making it my longest novel to-date, and my sixth finished "novel" (although three of those were novellas).
And yeah, that's about it. Is anyone else freaking out over NaNoWriMo?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fighting for Christ-Centered Christian Fiction

(A note to the reader, whether a writer or no: this post is something that's been on my heart for a long time, so I'd appreciate if you read it, and I'd love hearing your thoughts. I may be repeating myself in many ways, but I think it's a message worth repeating.)

I have been struggling with something for a quite a while. For a long time, I've been resolved to present Christian fiction that is clean, and leaves you feeling clean. In many ways, I feel that this resolution is contrary to other Christian fiction books out there. Ted Dekker comes to mind, and Travis Thrasher. As I've said many times (and I'm likely to say it many times more), fiction that is too dark leaves the reader feeling as if they've waded through muck, and it'll take a long scrubbing to get them clean again. Thus, I want to write something that cleans the reader instead of dirtying them.

I've resolved that for myself, yes. But the question is, where is the uncrossable line for any Christian writer? I believe there is one, a line that Christian writers sometimes cross in portraying depravity as too depraved, and failing to equally portray goodness. But many Christian fiction writers seem to think that there is a relativism in reading novels; if a book is “too much” for you it simply means that it's your own tastes that's the problem. Some people can handle more than the others; it's the “weaker faith” thing. What was clean and unclean food in New Testament times is the equivalent of clean and unclean books in modern day....right?

Some time ago I read a book called Avalon Falls by L. B. Graham, who wrote the excellent Christian fantasy saga The Binding of the Blade. I had read the sample (which was compelling) and convinced my sister to buy the Kindle edition, which was only $2.99.

That book once more brought these questions to my mind, not because of how good it was, but because I was surprised at how bad it was. Not in plot or character or anything, no. Stylistically it was fine, even great in spots, and certainly the first ten percent was good enough to get us to buy it.

But the content in the book, and the way it was portrayed, was almost shocking, especially after reading Graham's squeaky-clean Binding of the Blade series. There was cursing, sexual content (albeit addressed from afar, not in POV, and tactfully brief), and the scenes of two gruesome murders that could have used a lot less description. The main character was a non-Christian and the Christian themes of the book were kept at an arm's length.

In short, Graham did what I earlier described as “portraying depravity as too depraved”. In doing this, he also failed to balance it out. The rather poetic theme of the book (Avalon Falls; that is, even holy isles like the mythical Avalon have fallen) was far overshadowed by the grim mountain of human sin that had been built before it.

As I finished the book, I felt that I had wasted my time and sullied my mind. Such content from non-Christians I might have expected; but from a Christian author?

There are many times where I feel like giving up, but what carries me through is the fact that, even though mankind seems hopelessly fallen and that sometimes there doesn't seem to be a single honest person in this entire country, Christ can break through the darkness. Our depravity is expected, because mankind has fallen. But when I find this darkness in a Christian book, what am I supposed to think?

Doubtless it will be said that Avalon Falls, and books like it, are meant for non-Christian audiences. I'm sure the theme of the book may be somewhat evangelistic in that sense. But nevertheless, you do not feed a poisoned man poison. How will someone want the light if all you keep giving them is the assurance of their own darkness?

The weight of Avalon Falls has been weighing on my mind all night long. I deeply respect L. B. Graham for his dedication to his craft and to Christ, and I hope that the two-dollar royalty that he gained from our purchase of his book goes to a good purpose. But nevertheless, I feel that Avalon Falls, and books like it, have missed the mark. Christ has called us to something more.

Like I've said, after reading Avalon Falls, I felt down, almost depressed. As I'm wont to do when I have something on my mind, I wandered around and did nothing in particular for some time. Eventually my wandering led me to my Bible, and as soon as I started reading I felt as if a cloud had lifted from my mind. Here's what I read:

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

Even if the Bible never outright says not to write fiction that is too “dark”, and even seems to support the fiction relativists at times, I believe that the more we read the Bible, the brighter the light will shine in our writing. How can we think such thoughts, after all, if we believe that Christ himself will encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good deed and even in our writing – our words?

Is there to be only light in fiction, then? By no means! Darkness can make the light brighter; but our job is to use that darkness only to enhance the light, not to let it “overwhelm” the light. My own novel deals with difficult subjects, but the difference is that the darkness only exists to glorify the light, just as it does in real life. In books like Avalon Falls, the author made the mistake of letting their own light go dim.

So what are we to do? We need to fight for Christ-centered Christian fiction – and better yet, write it.

The path of the New Testament is not to expose all of the bad deeds of humanity so that we all know how depraved we really are, but to let the light shine so blindingly bright that it not only burns out the bad deeds but allows the good deeds to grow. Christ has given us a righteousness from God, and He has paid with His blood; let us not waste it! May our light shine before men, so that their evil deeds look like straw before the everlasting glory of Christ!

Let it be an example to us, then. We cannot fight fire with fire. Fire consumes, but water may put out the fire, and feed the green things that grow. Words are powerful and precious; we cannot waste them!

Will we allow our words to describe the things that tarnish the mind and weigh down the heart, or will we use them to spur other Christians on toward love and good deeds? Will we not use them to put forth the gift of God – a righteousness apart from the law – to those who desperately need it?

As Christians, we are called to think about all of the things that are good – to hate what is evil, cling to what is good! We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Our minds have been renewed in Christ; our spirits are alive in Him – so why would we even think for a moment to write something that lets the darkness be greater than the light?

I charge you, Christian writer: do not waste your words. We have only a short time on this earth, and then we will give an account before God on what we have done on this earth. May we answer well on that day! May we say that we were not ashamed of the Gospel – and that we have done what He has called us to: to glorify His name. Whatever we do, we do it in the name of Christ: let us not dishonor that name above all names!

May glory be to God alone, and may Christ encourage your hearts and strengthen you as you act and as you write!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review: The New Recruit

"Forced to choose between military school and a Christian spy organization, skeptic Spencer Garmond signs on with the Bible geeks. But before he even boards the plane for Moscow, Spencer realizes this is no Bible club.

These guys mean business.
Stumbling onto a case involving a gang of homeless boys, a chilling tattoo, and the always beautiful Anya Vseveloda, Spencer struggles to find the faith needed to save the Mission League from enemy infiltration."  (From

Author of the award-winning Blood of Kings trilogy, Jill Williamson returns with a new Marcher Lord Press book: The New Recruit, set in modern day America and Russia.

Marcher Lord Press is a “speculative fiction” publisher, and the speculations of The New Recruit follow two main paths: first, the existence of a “Christian spy” organization, and second, the existence (and, in some cases, fictionalization/dramatization) of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament.

Both of them together, in one book, made the book sound very intriguing, and I love Jill Williamson's excellent writing style. Still, I was wary after reading her other modern-day novel, Replication, which was so-so and not half as good as the Blood of Kings trilogy.

My fear proved groundless. Just like all Marcher Lord Press books, The New Recruit showed fantastic style, layout, and editing. Allow me to splurge a bit:

By far, my favorite part of the book was the voice of the main character, Spencer, combined with Williamson's incredible writing style. Her style is one of the best I've read – a combination of wry voice, a balance of action and internal monologue, and modern references and comparisons that make the style colorful.

Character-wise, Williamson brings the book to life. Even though Spencer is something of a loose cannon, you learn to like him, and, at least, care for him. He's human, and the way he approaches Christianity was fresh and original. I have rarely read a book that writes a skeptic so well. It's extremely easy to make such characters cheesy, but Williamson pulls it off.

The combination of Williamson's compelling style and plot makes this book a page-turner. I finished it in a day, which is something I rarely do as I get older. Williamson gives us teasing hints about Spencer's background and past – some of which are left unresolved – and gives us mysterious clues about where the plot is headed. The result is that you can hardly put this book down.

Williamson did a good job on theme as well. Like I've said, Spencer the skeptic is written very well, and likewise the “Christian spies” are presented in a way that makes them seem real. Each of these have their own problems, and Arianna especially comes across as a preachy sort of girl, which may be the intent of the author. In the end, though, the thoughts presented were thought-provoking and well worth thinking about.

I had very few problems with this book, although I'm not entirely certain how Biblical some of the contents are. The author herself mentions that the abilities of the characters are “fictional”, which resolves some of those questions, but the author also gives some very helpful verses to look into and compare to the themes addressed in the novel. This provokes the reader to read the Bible for themselves, and that's always a good thing!

The one big issue I had with the book was the way the adolescents interact. I've encountered this problem in all of Williamson's books, particularly in Replication, which soured my taste for the novel.

While Spencer is a non-Christian, Williamson seems to assume that whenever there is a remotely pretty girl in the same room as a remotely handsome male, there will be romantic flirtation. Over the course of the book, Spencer seems to lean toward one girl, and then another, and so on. Again, Spencer is a non-Christian, so I don't expect him to act like one. But even the Christian characters (i.e. Gabe, Nick, Ryan, etc.) have their “eye” on one girl or another. As an adolescent myself, I can say that I don't melt whenever a girl is in the room, like these characters do – and I certainly don't think about them all the time.

The book finished well, however, and left plenty of loose ends open for book two in the Mission League series. I can't wait!

On the whole, The New Recruit is an excellent, original beginning to a new series, combining an absorbing plot with equally interesting characters to create a novel you can't put down.

Rated 9 out of 10. Five stars!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Blood on Paper

One writer famously said, “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

While this is not terribly practical advice, it is right in one respect: when you write a book – I mean, when you truly write a book, not when you're typing out escapist fiction – you are writing with your own blood.

In the Old Testament, blood is regarded as something sacred. Blood is, in some ways, the essence of who somebody is. Thus, when sin is paid for, it is paid for in blood; first by the sacrifice of a perfect lamb, and finally by the sacrifice of a perfect God.

And when we write novels, we pour ourselves into these characters. We pour our essence into them; we give our blood. Our blood is written on paper in the form of words. It is only when this happens that our stories really and truly come to life.

Before I started the Prophecies – or even after – I had the vague idea that I would write “something awesome”. Even as late as NaNo 2010 the goal of my writing was, in some ways, to glorify God; but my other objectives was just to make the story as cool as it could be.

It wasn't until I revised The War Horn and started work on Tornado C that I solidified my “writer's creed”: that my first and primary objective was to glorify God, and second to create something that would nourish the reader. In The War Horn, I glimpsed something of what a novel would be like when I had that “creed” as my primary purpose. The story was, and still is, the strongest of my tales in terms of theme. (Tornado C will challenge that position once I get to the climax, but that's a long way off.)

When I started outlining Tornado C, I was at a period of growth. I was learning how to further live with God at the center of my life, and how this plays out in another culture – and in my writing.

I discovered something incredible at that time: that all of my work was as straw if I didn't pour myself (and my beliefs) into them. “Writing what you know” doesn't just mean doing lots of research. It also means that the characters themselves won't have life unless you truly know them. And how will you know them?

I found out that if I put parts of myself into my characters, they took to the page in a way that none of my characters have ever done before.

Into the main character of Tornado C I poured the guilt I had before I had become a Christian, before I had discovered the wondrous theme of justification; into his companion, I put bitterness (which everyone knows to some extent), and the struggle with sin we all have; in another character, I put loneliness and, in some ways, embodied my adaption to a new culture and the differences I have with my own; in all of these, the frustration we have when God doesn't seem to hear when we speak to Him; in The Prophecy of Einarr, I have a character who realizes how dangerous surrender to God may be and the pride that holds them back, which I have taken from my own conversion; and in The Voice of God my main character will struggle with the ever-present question of why God does what He does, and why innocents often suffer more than the wicked.

As a result of this, my writing has come alive in new ways. I have often taken something that I wrestle with in my own life and embody it in the written word. If I write about struggles I have never had, will I help those who have them? Yet if I write about the things of life I know, won't the reader understand it better?

If I read a book about a missionary kid adapting in a new culture, I would deeply emphasize with them and their story. In America, I read about missionaries and their trials; now I understand them so much better. In the same way, if the characters of a novel have the same struggles that other people do, they will come alive to your reader.

Thus, writing what you know becomes pouring yourself into your novel. Bits and pieces of myself are found in all of my characters. Why? Because that is the only way I will truly know them, and know how to write them. My stories become my way of articulating my life and my faith.

So my advice to you is this: don't shirk back from becoming your characters and their stories. Pour yourself into them: your struggles, your faith, your experiences, your life, and your blood. Once your readers see your blood on paper, they'll recognize that the same blood flows in their own veins. And regardless of the number of sales you have or the amount of people that read your book, your readers will connect with your story in a way that they can't with the average penny-dreadful.

And that's a very good thing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Return to Arowdae: NaNoWriMo and Writing Styles

Now that I've temporarily wrapped up Tornado C and Will Vullerman, I'm finally freed up to focus on The Prophecies again.

The Prophecies is what I would now describe as a prose-ugly saga that will require so much revision that it's not even funny. (That being said, it has some good points, among them being cool names and really fun dialogue.) It is a wild tale, which may be one reason why it's an almost exclusively NaNoWriMo-written series.

After working on the heavily descriptive prose of Tornado C, however, the style of The Prophecies is radically different. Like Tornado C, I tend to focus on dialogue; however, the prose is very sparse and describes just enough to move the story along, a result of my 2k-a-day writing rushes. Thus, the focus of the novel is not on character or theme (although there is some of both in this novel, especially theme) but plot. It's my dabble in plot-first writing, so to speak.

In some ways, this is refreshing. Writing in one style can be boring, in the same way that reading the same style for a number of different books can become tedious. (For instance, Bryan Davis's prose is almost the same in every single one of his fantasy books, his first two novels excluded. It gets old after a while.)

Right now, however, I have to finish last year's NaNoNovel, The Prophecy of Einarr, before I can continue brainstorming for Book Three in the series, The Voice of God. (Unfortunately, once I reached 50k last year, I completely dropped the the middle of a scene.) A couple days back I finished that scene. It was somewhat difficult, since I had to switch my “style glasses”. Imagine what it would be like if I suddenly switched styles mid-book! Yagh! No, sir! So I'm getting used to brief prose and little description again.

Right now, I'm not quite focusing on excellence, like I did with Tornado C – I have to finish the book in less than two weeks, and I have at least four to five sizable chapters left to write. (Don't worry, they're not Tornado C-sized chapters. The Prophecies, also unlike Tornado C, is characterized by fairly short chapters.) Then, I brainstorm!

How are you preparing for NaNoWriMo? Is anyone else trying to tie up loose ends before starting? (Is anyone else starting to panic because they have zero ideas for their NaNoNovel? :P)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Read "The Reality Ring" for FREE!

Today, I at last finished my revisions for “The Reality Ring”, the short story sequel to “In Stasis”. It continues the adventures of Will Vullerman, the elite ASP agent.

And guess what? For those of you who have already finished “In Stasis” (or even those who haven't), I'm repeating the pattern: you blog-followers get to read it...for free!

Here are your mission instructions:

First, you must be a follower or “chronic reader” of this blog at the time of this post to be eligible for a free copy of “The Reality Ring”. That just means that you have to be one of the current 130+ Google followers, or that you're someone who has been reading this blog for a while. (If you're someone who followed my blog after I posted about “In Stasis” but before I published this post, email me and I'll see what I can do to get you both stories.)

Second, I need to receive an email from you in order for you to get your free copy. Send me an email at jtbdude [at] gmail [dot] com requesting a copy of “The Reality Ring”, letting me know for verification purposes that you're a follower or a reader of this blog.

Lastly, make sure and tell me the format in which you'd like to read the story. I can supply three versions: .odt, PDF, and .doc. Since I haven't formatted the story for Kindle, I won't be able to give out .prc files. If you don't specify what file type you want, I'll send it in .doc.

Once I get an email from you, please be patient. It may take up to a week or longer for me to reply. African internet is less than stellar when it comes to uploads.

There are no strings attached. While I'd value your opinions and critiques, they are not required for you to receive the story.

Remember, folks, this isn't an indefinite offer. This is only available to blog followers from now up until the time the story is published. After the story is published, this post no longer valid. So make sure and hurry if you want to read the story!

(A note: as of right now, there are two more Will Vullerman stories waiting to be revised. However, those two stories require a lot more work than the others did. Combine that with the upcoming contest of NaNoWriMo, it means I probably won't get around to revising them until December at the soonest. My apologies!)

Well? What are you waiting for? Email away.

And happy reading. :)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

In Which The Theme Is At Last Introduced

Just wrote a scene in which my theme is fleshed out. While I put seeds of the theme in the previous five chapters, Chapter Six finally confronts it head-on. I figured you'd enjoy a sneak-peek, so here's a snippet from Chapter Six.

Ne'ram paused. “Now listen to me. I said I didn't have much time. I can feel a coldness climbing over my bones...but ah, I think I'm ready for it. It twists in my stomach, but I shall embrace it. To speak with my God at last!” For a moment, he lapsed into silence. Then he blinked. “Death puts me off track, lad. As I was saying, I don't have much time. In order for this quest to work, you need to remember two things.”

“Which are?”

“First, let me ask you a question. How much are you willing to give up to see the curse destroyed?”

Elijah's stomach lurched. How much would he give up? To find forgiveness...everything, maybe. If God were truly real, then he would give up anything. But instead, he found himself saying, “Why do I have to give up anything at all?”

“I tell you the truth, lad...this quest, if you accept it, will cost you dear. Good things always do. But I didn't ask what you would give up, but what you were willing to give up. There's a difference, lad.”

“I—” Elijah halted. Then he forced it out: “I'd give up anything.”

“Even your life?”

“To destroy the curse?” Elijah swallowed. “Yes.”

“That's what I needed to know, lad.” Ne'ram smiled, as if he had just confirmed something he had suspected. “The willingness is there; faith is what you must discover now. But what you have just said is the key to getting Daren's participation.”

“But how—”

“Tut, lad! I don't give out free advice. Figure it out for yourself. Wisdom isn't given, but earned. Now, for the second thing...what was it?” Ne'ram screwed up his face for a moment, and then he lit up. “Aha! When the time comes, remember this: that even though you think it may cost you your life, take the risk and do what no Elaraster has ever done before. Give up everything that makes you an Elath in order to gain what you can never lose. Don't bother trying to find out what it means, lad; you'll understand it when you need to.”

The words burrowed in Elijah's chest, like a bittersweet ache. “I—I don't understand, Ne'ram.”

“Goodness, lad! Daren isn't the only one who doesn't have ears to hear. I just told you that you wouldn't understand.” Ne'ram blew a half-raspberry. “Now, lad, go convince Daren to go on this fool quest of yours.”

I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. And again, like my other excerpts, this is freshly written and very, very rough. (I also edited for spoilers. Heh heh.) Still, I hope you get the main gist of things.

On other news, I've finally finished Chapter Six after a flurry of writing activity. Tornado C's word count is 31,058 – Chapter Six is nearly ten thousand words long. (There's no doubt about it now: it'll be broken up into at least two chapters during revisions.) Insane, but it's one of the finest things I've ever written. Worldbuilding, character, and theme all reach a peak here as the drive of the plot is at last revealed.

And I'm beginning to hope that the long chapter trend won't continue. My projected word count is climbing past 115,000 words. *headdesk* This book will be impossible to write if it keeps getting longer.

Since I've reached one of the two main turning points (chapter six and chapter eighteen) I'm putting aside Tornado C until December. The rest of October will be devoted to three things: finishing The Prophecy of Einarr (last year's NaNoNovel), continuing my Will Vullerman revisions, and storyboarding for The Voice of God, this year's NaNoNovel.

Then, on to NaNoWriMo! [insert battle cry here.]

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tornado C is way too long.

While Tornado C has been going slowly, I prefer to think that it's marinating, like a good steak. The longer it marinates (within reason) the better it will be when completely cooked.

Yesterday I cooked 25,000 words worth of steak. (The current count is actually somewhere past 26,000 now.) Yes, sir, Tornado C finally (after an arduous struggle) hit the big 100 pages mark! Unfortunately, the length problem has continued...I'm still not finished with Chapter Six. In fact, that (and Chapter Five) are ending up so long that I'll probably split them in half during my revisions and lengthen my novel by two chapters.

This also means that, if my other chapters follow the same pattern, the projected word count of Tornado C has increased to 100,000 words. (My longest novel to date is a little more than half that much.) That's four hundred pages. Insane. Especially since I'm only writing the novel from two point-of-views, and I haven't even introduced the second POV yet.

My sister keeps telling me that she “respects long novels” (and long chapters) but they sure take an awful long time to write.

On the flip side though, I'm enjoying the novel, and especially the characters. For instance:


“Daren, you blasted Celamarian, I'll kill you if you don't talk to me!”

A hoarse voice drifted up from the dark, gaping hole in the floor. “That's a sorry excuse for murdering [me].”

Elijah breathed a sigh of relief. “At least you're alive, you breadhead.”

“Breadhead? Where did you get that one?” Daren coughed, somewhere in the darkness. “And where are you?”

“I'm still where I was standing before. Is it possible to climb up?”

“Why don't you find out?” Though hoarse, Elijah reflected, Daren's voice hadn't lost any of its sardonic tone. “I can't move. I've got a big mirg blegn plank on my bremmed leg, mishkar helbrein ven negi—”

“I can speak Celamarian,” Elijah said dryly. “Your mother wouldn't be impressed with what you just said.”

^That above example was just written five minutes ago, so, like many of my excerpts, it needs quite a bit of editing. I did edit one thing though: a spoiler. Thus, the brackets. ;)

What about you all? Are you any of you doing some writing? Or are you feverishly preparing for NaNoWriMo and/or being eaten alive by carnivorous schoolwork?

I'm doing all three. ^_^

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reviewing Christian Fiction: How Far Is Too Far?

How would you feel if someone gave your book a negative review – in the sight of every potential buyer?

Yesterday I reviewed The Tide of Unmaking. While writing that review, I struggled to both give an even-handed opinion on the book and keep my critique in check. (While The Tide of Unmaking had many, many good points, and had a good rating from me, I'm able to articulate critique much better than praise.) I actually cut three or four paragraphs that imbalanced the review by focusing too much on the negatives. And while writing that review, I kept thinking, “How fair is this to a hard-working Christian author?”

These thoughts aren't new. I thought them, in a different way, while reviewing a book called Behemoth for BookSneeze. I wrote a 2.5 star review, which I posted both to Amazon and my blog. What made it worse is that I had gotten the book for free, and I felt obligated to help out the author in some way. The review, however, was one of the most negative I had written. My opinion was, in summary, that it was a creationist tract that was dressed up like a novel. I know of several people that decided against buying the novel as a result of my review.

Another example would be a book (which I'll leave nameless) that I reviewed for a fellow young Christian writer. It was a negative review, and I felt bad that I couldn't give it a better rating, but there were elements in the book that I simply couldn't tolerate.

After each of these instances, I found myself thinking, “How far is too far?”

How far will you go to write a critical review of a Christian book? Or, as I said earlier, how would you feel if a fellow believer gave your hard work – Christian work, at that – a negative review?

It's a hard question, and there's no easy answers. Most of the reviews I write are of Christian books. Each of those authors had a dream to get their baby, their novel, published for the world to see. Those authors are supported financially by their work, have invested years of sweat and blood into their work. They've sought to glorify God how best they can. Can I justify giving them a bad rating?

Some people would probably say no. And there are people who do that – who, out of respect for the author, keep to the maxim, “If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.”

Still, if I followed this principle in my reviews, I feel that I would be dishonest.

So what's the balance?

I think it's different for different people. Some of us may be feel led to not speak; some of us may feel duty-bound to let loose their opinion, negative or no.

Here's what I do. In every review, especially if they're negative, I keep three rules in mind.

1) Always balance the negative with the positive.

Writing an entirely negative review is just as offensive to me as it is to the author receiving the review. It shows lack of taste and decency. Balancing the negative with the positive “sweetens the pill” and also makes a review even-handed. Pointing out only positives or only negatives is simply dishonest. There are good elements to almost every novel. (I'm not in the business of reading novels that have no good elements, so I don't have to worry about finding elements to compliment.)

2) Keep a respectful tone of voice.

Reviews that have biting sarcasm and a mocking tone of voice never go down well. When a person uses words like “trash” and “stupid” and “junk” to describe a book, they're neglecting the fact that they are called to speak the truth – in love. And even if a person uses nice words, if they're being sardonic, their nice words are worthless.

I've read far too many reviews like this. There's a difference between critique and “bashing”. (Bashing is reserved for Twilight, so goes the joke.)

Instead, I use turns of phrase that are softer and less offensive to communicate what I mean.

3) Tell the truth.

As much as I want to support Christian authors, I don't support sugarcoating my thoughts. I am charged to use my words well: but while speaking in love I must not neglect the fact that I am supposed to be speaking truth.

If the writer needs to work on their prose, then that's what I'm going to say. If the author had his or her characters saying cheesy things throughout the book, then I'm need to let the potential reader know. Honesty is the best attribute for a reviewer to have.

What about you? What are your thoughts about writing negative reviews, especially if the negative review is of a Christian book? Have you ever written any negative reviews? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: The Tide of Unmaking

The adventure reaches new heights with the highly anticipated third and final installment of Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper's award winning series, The Berinfell Prophecies: The Tide of Unmaking - Book 3.

Seven years have passed since the Lords of Berinfell - Tommy, Kat, Jimmy, Johnny, Autumn and Kiri Lee - watched the horror of Vesper Crag wash away, as well as their fallen kinsman, Jett Green. But with Grimwarden in exile, the realm of Berinfell finds itself ill-equipped to weather the coming storms.

Kiri Lee begins to whisper of ghostly visitations. Taeva, Princess of the Taladrim, desperately seeks out the Elves of Berinfell to rescue her kingdom. And the genocidal Drefid Lord Asp launches his campaign to conquer Allyra. And Earth. But far worse still is a consuming terror on the horizon: an unstoppable force that threatens to devour all creation and all hope.
Nations will crumble, loyalties will be tested, and even the might of Berinfell’s Lords may not be enough to stem The Tide of Unmaking. (From

Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper return at last with the final installment of The Berinfell Prophecies: The Tide of Unmaking.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to proof-read this book for the authors, so I got to read it a month or so before everyone else. (Huzzah!) As this was a self-published book, I was curious to see how the quality of the book measured up with the other two books of the series, Curse of the Spider King and Venom and Song.

As it turned out, mechanically speaking, The Tide of Unmaking was excellent. Balancing dialogue, description, action, and plot, the prose of this book was as good or better than the first two in the series, especially in the first hundred pages. While I felt that the quality of the rest of the book wasn't quite as good, as a whole The Tide of Unmaking was very well-edited.

The authors have said on multiple occasions that this book was going to be blow-your-pants-off epic. If the goal of the book was to be epic in scope, then the authors have certainly achieved their goal. Plotwise, The Tide of Unmaking was fantastic. It was fast-moving, causing the pages to speed by – even for someone like me, who was reading the book in order to give feedback – and had a wider scope than the previous two books, which had been mostly focused on the Elves. This book was much broader, introducing all of the races that inhabited Allyra, with their own unique cultures, wars, and characters.

In the tradition of the first two books, The Tide of Unmaking sends the Six Lords gallivanting around the entire known world, and then some, to defeat truly despicable villains and save two worlds: Allyra and Earth. We revisit places we know well and discover new locales. Allyra especially was vivid in detail and rich in history. In world-building, plot, and prose, then, the authors did very well.

In the character department, however, I felt that The Tide of Unmaking fell short. As a character-first novelist myself (a title that I've only recently accepted) perhaps I felt this absence more than others. Characters were minimally developed – enough to be “adequate” but never more so. Many of the characters felt shallow to me. (There is one notable exception, however: Taeva surprised me on many occasions. She was, by far, the most developed and rounded character in the book, and one of my favorites.)

The problem is that this occurs for each of the characters. They have their personality differences, but seldom more than that. They were developed enough for them to be realistic and somewhat three-dimensional, but not enough for us to really love them on a deeper level. Even scenes that should have revealed more character felt rushed in order to get to the “big events” of the plot.

That was the one downside of The Tide of Unmaking: that the plot overshadowed the character far too much. In the end, however, it is the characters that are remembered. Fantastic plots can only be lived through once; but the characters that are in those tales can be relished forever.

Theme is inevitably tied to character. Where character is, there is the theme as well. And meaningful theme (which is what I expected, from reading Batson's Dark Sea Annals and Hopper's White Lion Chronicles) was conspicuously absent from this tale.

In The Tide of Unmaking, Tommy almost starts eating Mumthers' delicious food before thanking Ellos (God) for the meal. Sheepishly, he tacks on a prayer and then lets everybody eat. I felt like The Tide of Unmaking was similar; that the authors, in their haste to deliver “a good meal” to the readers, didn't take as much time as I would have liked to nourish the reader in spirit as well as in their thirst for a good story.

This wasn't to say that there was no theme, however; there were smaller themes here and there. And these are well and good. But as a whole, The Tide of Unmaking just didn't deliver all the sections of the “story pyramid” to create a fully nourishing tale.

However, don't take this to mean that this book isn't great. The Tide of Unmaking is worth every penny, and at a fantastic eBook price, what are you waiting for? Buy the book and judge for yourself. I definitely recommend it, especially to fans of the previous Berinfell Prophecies books. You'll find here a war cry for the valiant soul.

Rated 8.5 out of 10.  (Four stars.)  Recommended for any Christian fantasy lover!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Infamous Month of October

So what makes October special? I feel a list coming on.

1) It marks the golden dawn of autumn, which means, in the States, that trees “go out with a bang” and lose their leaves in a most spectacular manner.

October isn't quite so spectacular in Liberia, unfortunately. It does mark, however, the end of the rainy season. Several days ago we had a storm that came from the inland, the first such storm since June. During the rainy season the storms come in from the sea, so this particular storm signified that the beginning of the end had finally come. The hot African dry season is coming!

2) Most importantly (at least in my eyes) it is my month of birth. That makes it the most awesome month of the year. Falltime is just an added bonus.

3) Almost as importantly, October is the month of preparation for NaNoWriMo.

Yes, sir. NaNoWriMo is on its way – the month that is generally characterized by massive turkey genocides and similar character genocides by thousands of sadistic writers everywhere.

October is the month where you chew your fingernails down to nubs in preparation for losing your fingernails altogether during NaNoWriMo. It is where those of us that plan our novels (myself not included) write outlines and rewrite outlines and write more outlines and delete outlines to foreshadow thirty incredible days of literary abandon.

And yes, I'm going to be doing it. In Africa. I successfully completed NaNoWriMo 2010 and 2011, and I aim to add NaNo 2012 to my list of accomplishments...or bust!

October is also going to be the month that I finish last year's NaNo, The Prophecy of Einarr, and start brainstorming for The Prophecies: Book Three, The Voice of God. (It's been in the back of my mind for six months, but because of my current projects, I've pushed it away until now.) I'm pretty excited about it, but I'm trying to focus on Tornado C until NaNo plans force me to take a break.

Oh, and I'm still working on Will Vullerman. (Coming slowly, sorry. I've got way too much on my plate right now.) That makes, oh, four projects to work on in the month of October. Eurgh. We'll see how much I'll actually get done. I'm not going to be able to finish Tornado C before NaNoWriMo, but I hope to resume my work after November and finish it by January 2013.

So, October. That's just my two cents. Or three cents, rather. But what about you? Do you have any particular thoughts on what makes October, October?

And who out there is doing NaNoWriMo? (Highfive do those who are! We shall conquer! Mwahahahaha!)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Can God Use Fiction Writing?

Some time ago I laid in silence and stared up at the ceiling, which I could hardly make out through my white, sheet-like mosquito net.

Temporarily sleepless nights are no strangers to me. More than once I've laid awake past midnight while wrestling over some question, whether it be spiritual, theological, or having to do with some hitch in my writing. This time it was the latter.

And I was asking the question, “Can God really use my fiction writing?”

Honestly, I had hit something of a rut with Tornado C. I saw where I was, and where I needed to be, but I couldn't seem to get up the inspiration and drive to get there. Instead, I found myself working on my Will Vullerman edits, or doing nothing at all. (When unable to write, I find it much easier to revise – and procrastination is easier than both.) I didn't want to work on Tornado C.

These thoughts are common to me, and probably to you too. Usually I can plow through this problem. However, there was another factor contributing to my sleepless state of mind.

That day I had started re-reading one of my favorite books, one I hadn't picked up for some time; it had been over a year, in fact, since I had last read it.

And there was a problem. I recognized some of the same elements in that story that were in my current novel. Little things here and there were almost identical to some of the themes and concepts in my own novel. While there was nothing blatantly plagiaristic – much of my novel was as original as a your run-of-the-mill swords-and-battles fantasy tale – there were parts of the novel, especially in theme, that sounded eerily similar to my own.

This is a problem I've struggled with since my very first novel. How can I write with originality? I've read killer plots before, and loved incredible characters; why couldn't I write the same?

Mentally, this discovery was rather crushing. If this novel – which has been one of my best ideas yet – wasn't totally original, how could I ever write something truly good?

Thus, midnight found me awake again, my hands folded behind my head and my elbows splayed out over my pillow, my legs crossed, my eyes staring blankly into the darkness above the circular plastic rods that held up my net. Inside, I was wrestling with this problem, looking at it from every angle and trying to make sense of the mess.

Finally, as what usually happens, I brought it before God. I laid out all of my frustration, both at the story and at my own negligence and procrastination. I let Him have it. Here's what I said, in short:

“Okay, God, I know you gave me this novel. And this concept. And especially this theme. But I don't know what to do anymore. The novel is flawed. I can't convey what I want to – it's not even original. I want to write this novel for Your glory, but how can I do that? How can you even use this novel? I'm not even a hundred pages into it, and it's riddled with problems and holes and characters that don't do what I want them to. At times, I don't even want to write the story anymore. Do you really want me to do this? Should I give it up altogether and work on something that actually seems to work – like my Will Vullerman stories? How can you even work with such a flawed story?”

I don't claim to hear from God. I didn't hear an audible voice; but to my spirit, I heard Him say, “If I want to use this novel for My glory, what is it to you? Don't you believe that I can use the most flawed vessel?”

And that answer left me speechless.


Did I believe that God could use Tornado C, despite how flawed it was, despite how flawed I was? Didn't I believe in a God who can do anything and everything He wanted? And if He wanted to use Tornado C...was I, a fallible mortal, going to stand in His way?

And eventually, I answered. And the answer was yes, I did believe that God could use anyone and anything.

What logically follows from this, then, is the question: “Then why aren't I writing my novel like I believe God can use it?”

To disobey His call to write my novel – to even procrastinate and do nothing when I know I should be writing – that is a sin. We are to do everything to His glory; so if we have dedicated something like a novel to His glory and we don't continue in it, we are keeping for ourselves the glory that rightfully belongs to God.

I'm writing this to encourage you, blog reader. If you're writing, and you're stuck, and you don't know if you can continue on writing this story...just remember.

Remember this: that if you have dedicated your novel to God, unless you hear otherwise from Him, you are to write in that novel and make it the best it can be. And He who has started this work will finish it. To do otherwise is to keep from giving God the glory.

And write with the knowledge that God is behind it, directing it, fueling it, and writing it. And guess what? When God is in charge of things, He can do it so much better than we can on our own.

Isn't that incredible? That the God of the universe – He who is infinitely creative – can create through us? That He can illustrate His own attributes and give Himself glory through our flawed writings?

That's a good God! And that's a good thought, is it not?

Soli Deo gloria. Glory to God alone!