Tuesday, December 23, 2014

O Come, O Come: Christmas Reflections

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. Something about the minor key has always stuck with me—it was almost haunting, a lilting and wistful tune. This choice of key always seemed odd to me, especially considering that it was a song of anticipation with a chorus that rang out “Rejoice!” multiple times.

Last Sunday, as I was in church, we sang that song again. Most notably, it was followed with communion, and “O Come O Come Emmanuel” echoed over the speakers with a soft violin and quiet, stirring bells that sounded like they were being tapped out on a piano.

And as I reflected on communion and listened to the beautiful violin, I began to understand why “Emmanuel” had a minor tune. A quiet, almost melancholy ache rose up in my heart; and as the pastor solemnly urged us to “eat of this bread and drink of this cup” in remembrance of the Lord's death until he comes, I longed to see the day when the Lord would come back again.

That old Christmas carol is in a minor key, perhaps, because waiting is hard. Waiting is sad, and makes your heart ache. And as the world continues hurtling onward, consumed with strife and grief and bigotry, we long for something greater.

The Jews remembered the promises of God, that a God With Us would come someday and “ransom captive Israel”. But remembrance and hope are both hard things. One is looking back, and one is looking forward, and neither one is easy in the present. We want things now. We either want to be back in the past with Christ or forward to the Second Coming. But taking communion and remembering that God is not physically with us—yet—is a thing worthy of a minor melody.

So even as we celebrate the first coming of Christ this Christmas, let's keep our eyes ahead to the Second Coming. The revolution started two thousand years ago, and the echoes of that explosive God-man point forward to the day that he will come again in glory. He will wipe away our tears and make us wholly in his likeness; Christ will be Emmanuel again. God With Us.

And I hope and pray that we never get so comfortable with our presents and comfort foods that we forget the wistful hope that God has placed in our hearts. I hope that even as we celebrate Christmas, we will feel that aching longing for a day when there will be no more pain, and glory forever.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

(P.S. Also, please listen to all of Rend Collective's “Campfire Christmas” album. Most notably, my favorite of the disc, “For All That You Have Done”. You're welcome!)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Ambitious might be the best word to describe Sanderson's epic fantasy The Way of Kings.

He certainly puts the epic in epic fantasy; the other books of his that I've read pale in comparison to the sheer scale of this novel. Clocking in at over a thousand pages and hundreds of thousands of words, it's hardly slim. The world-building is incredible; he's created dozens of distinct characters, cultures, and magics. Although it never becomes crystal-clear, Sanderson also makes it easy to tread the waters and understand the basics.

Indeed, Sanderson has a special gift for keeping one's attention. Although the beginning sometimes loses you in the sheer number of new words and concepts, once the book gets rolling, it's hard to stop reading. And that is a very good thing if a book is over a thousand pages long. Incredibly, I never felt bored; it takes a skilled writer to hold a reader's attention over such a massive number of pages, and yet Sanderson does it with ease.

I also never cease to marvel how Sanderson manages to perfectly balance character development and plot, in addition to creating a detailed and incredible storyworld. The main characters are complex and round and even the side characters admirably developed. Yet the character development never sacrifices plot or speed—the novel shoves onward with speed, if not urgency. And as is typical Sanderson fashion, there are a number of stunning plot twists.

Still, this volume is heavier than some of his other works. The novel opens with an assassination, the battle scenes of which seem to drag on a little longer than necessary. In fact, that very character is responsible for some of the darkest moments of this tome, being tormented by his involuntary service and yet unable to change it—and used repeatedly for dark deeds.

Kaladin, the “main” main character, is a man haunted by loss. Reading some sections made me want to cringe at how badly things had gone for him; losing everyone that was dear to him, over and over. Some parts were almost numbing, as multiple characters I had liked were killed, or as people who had feigned goodness showed their true, corrupted sides.

This did work positively, however: I rooted for him loyally. Every failure made me cringe because of how expertly Sanderson had made me want for him to come out on top. Still, in the middle of the book especially, it seemed like there was no real stability. Was Dalinar crazy? Was Adolin wrong? Was the king descending into paranoia? Which characters were planning betrayal? Was there anyone actually good? This made most of the novel very morally ambiguous.

As always, Sanderson doesn't shy away from religion, but sometimes the events that occur obscure the religious waters more than they clear them up. Many references are made to a common deity, known as the “Almighty”. (I could never determine whether “Stormfather” was another word for the same god or distinct from it.) Near the end, as several things are revealed about this “Almighty”, the waters become even more muddy.

Is there a “good guy” who created the Almighty? Obviously the Almighty isn't as ultimate as some of the characters believe. Is there actually something ultimate? It is never said. One character is also an atheist, and argues several times with different people throughout the novel.

Religion is not the only area which muddies moral waters. The themes of the novel conflict often. One character defends her trapping and killing of several highwaymen as “good” because she prevented them from preying on people in the future. Multiple characters justify murder for the good of their people. (Let it be noted that in both of these instances, the POV character disapproved.)

Sanderson seems to indicate that there is some moral rock, some absolute that morality is based on, but his characters have trouble finding any moral stability in a maze of questions.  Some questions, such as the validity of killing in order to save lives, are never really answered.  Sanderson gets lost in his moral conundrums, dragging some of the positives down with him.

That being said, there were some positives. Two of the main characters especially, Kaladin and Dalinar, take stands for what they believe is right.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

Kaladin is hurt so often that he begins to refuse to try and save people, to invest in them; as a result, he's plunged into a deep depression that he nearly doesn't come out of. But when he does, he invests in Bridge Four, a group of men destined to die in a hellish way—he gives them their humanity again. He gives them leadership and hope. He protects them and loves them.

 As a result of this warmth, they become more than just “bridgemen”, the living dead—they begin to grow, to thrive, to find passion and honor and loyalty. It's a beautiful thing.

(End spoilers.)

The other man is Dalinar, a staunch highprince who blames himself for not being there for his brother, the king, the night he was assassinated. As a result, he becomes rigid—morally straight in every way. Indeed, even when he begins to question his sanity, he is the only real moral character in the whole story. “You're the real thing, aren't you?” one character asks him.

Dalinar's two focuses are the Codes, the Alethi rules that tell him how to wage war, and an ancient book called The Way of Kings. Throughout the book, we get glimpses of The Way of Kings in anecdotes and proverbs. And they are indeed impressive. One passage on the humility of kings is reminiscent of some Biblical principles—in fact, the Codes and Kings together form Dalinar's morality, something he says changed his heart, and thus his behavior. (Whether or not it was intended, there is a strong Biblical parallel there.)

And in the end, both of these characters are justified for the positions they hold. Without spoiling anything, I'll say that the themes of trust, honesty, and honor triumph over the hatred and betrayal rife throughout the rest of the book, giving a degree of stability to a novel that would otherwise be more unstable.

Sanderson is, as always, imaginative and well-thought-out in the way he structures his world, his plot, and his characters. While the religious aspect is hardly compatible with Christianity, there does seem to be an underlying moral bedrock to the themes, despite the muddied waters. It's a complex book, and because of some of the content, it's not easy reading. But perhaps the title gives an indication of what Sanderson's focus is: The Way of Kings. A book about the warmth of real morality and humanity. 

And despite getting lost along the way, I think that's where the heart of the book lies.


Rated 8.5 out of 10.

Recommended for ages 16 and up. There is little cursing—several minor words—and almost no suggestive content, so it is clean in that respect. However, I recommend an older age due to two factors. One, there is a significant amount of violence and corruption; the sheer number of character deaths gets numbing in certain sections. Two, it is morally complex and sometimes muddy, and requires some discernment.

However, I strongly recommend any student of the fantasy genre to read this novel.  Regardless of whether you agree with his moral approach, Sanderson is extremely good at what he does.  Furthermore, he is, more than any other writer I've read, a master of both plot and character; plus his imagination is superb.  For that reason alone, if you can read the novel, I think you should read it.

Right now I have the second book in the Stormlight Archive on the mantle—and judging by the reviews on Amazon (higher than the reviews for the original) and the size of the tome (over eighty pages longer than the original), it's going to be an extremely fun week.  (The following books, including Words of Radiance, are what I picked up from the library today.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

In Sum: Twelve States and NaNoWriMo

The title says it all.  In the last three weeks I've been in twelve states, traveling everywhere from the Midwest to the East Coast.  It's been fantastic, seeing all of these new places and old friends - that being said, there are other things that have been neglected.

I've neglected to tell you that I'm doing NaNoWriMo - and that I'm doing it badly.  Check it out:

Yeah, 15,000 on Day 17 isn't the best of stats.  (I have a car drive coming to recoup some of that, however; we've got a long stretch of Oklahoma ahead.)  But I have the best of excuses!  Eleven states and over 24 hours' worth of driving is no small thing.

My NaNoWriMo project is my first nonfiction work, a memoir of the past year's events.  It's called "Safe to Shore: A Missionary Kid's Journey Through The Liberian Ebola Crisis".  So far I'm up to this past May, and I still have a long road ahead.

That being said, I'm worrying about running out of words to say.  We'll see!  Worst comes to worst, I'll write the last half of my newest Will Vullerman story to add up the word count.

How about you guys?  Anyone here blowing up their brains - er, doing NaNoWriMo?  How badly are you dying?  What's your word count?

Till next time (and hopefully it'll be sooner),

Friday, October 17, 2014

Don't Freak Out: What You Need To Know About Ebola

Ebola is scary, and people are frightened. And that's okay. Sheesh, Ebola scares even the most seasoned MSF worker out of their pants. (Freaks me out, too.)

However, we need to be scared of Ebola because of what we know about it, not because we fear what we don't understand. A lot of people have been asking questions, and a lot of Americans are freaking out – because they don't understand the situation. I'm hoping to lay out the situation and let you know what I know. There's a lot of misinformation about Ebola, and a lot of this “Fearbola” is unfounded.

My dad, working in the Ebola unit, helps Dr. Brantly suit up
in his protective gear. (Photo courtesy of Samaritan's Purse.)
(Before I go on, let me tell you why I can talk about this with some authority. I lived in Liberia during one of the worst parts of the outbreak. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were both friends of mine – Dr. Brantly was our neighbor and Mrs. Writebol was our organization's Personnel Coordinator. My dad was a unit manager of the non-medical staff, and did the same job as Mrs. Writebol, working closely with both her and Dr. Brantly. I lived on the ELWA campus where there are two Ebola units, one of which is the largest Ebola treatment center in the world.

I'm not trying to brag or put myself above people. But please understand, I know what I'm talking about. I'm not just a teenager giving opinions. What I'm about to share with you is a collection of facts, not my own spin on the subject.)

Okay, let's go.

The Basics

Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever. That means that Ebola always comes with a fever, and that as it advances, it can, but doesn't always cause hemorrhaging (uncontrolled bleeding). My dad describes it as a disease where every liquid in your body is trying to get out—causing internal and external bleeding (in cases far along), uncontrollable diarrhea, vomit, and severe loss of hydration, among other things.

The Ebola virus is ONLY found in liquids. This makes a very simple rule: you can only get Ebola through direct contact with someone's bodily fluids – blood, urine, feces, vomit, and so on. Furthermore, if you come in contact with those fluids, it has to enter your body through a semi-permeable membrane– eyes, nose, mouth, open sore or cut, and so on. Furthermore, it's not a tough virus—bleach, soap and direct sunlight kill it easily.

If someone contracts Ebola, the incubation period is 2-21 days, with 8-10 days being the most common period from exposure to the onset of initial symptoms. That means you're safe after three weeks.

Basically, if you don't touch an Ebola patient or their fluids, you won't catch it. My dad has sat across the threshold from an Ebola patient, less than three feet away. He never got sick. He had contact with Mrs. Writebol while she was sick—but because he didn't have contact with fluids, he did not contract Ebola.

It's also worth saying that the sicker you are, the more contagious you are. (That is one of the reasons why my dad did not contract Ebola from Mrs. Writebol; she was in the early stages of the disease.) So if you're well enough to walk about, and you have Ebola, the chances of getting someone else sick are much lower.

This is why I'm confident that the American nurse who flew on a commercial airline before contracting Ebola did not give Ebola to anyone else. Assuming that she had symptoms when she flew (a dubious assumption), she would have nevertheless been in the very beginning stages of the virus – and thus she would not be very contagious. Why am I confident? Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian who flew to Nigeria and caused a small Ebola outbreak there, flew on a commercial airline while he was VERY sick – and no one on the plane or affiliated with the airline contracted the virus.

Also, don't listen to the fear-mongers. Ebola is NOT airborne.

One more crucial point: if a person has Ebola in their system but shows no symptoms, they are not contagious. A lot of people get this wrong, so pay attention: you're only contagious after you show symptoms; and you are not highly contagious until the disease is farther along. Example? My dad ate pizza with Dr. Brantly less than twelve hours before Dr. Brantly developed symptoms. Dad's fine.

What About An American Outbreak?

There won't be one, unless nobody in America has running water and the hospitals make a lot of really bad decisions. (Since neither are true, I'm saying this with confidence.) Let me explain why.

1) American hygiene is miles better than West African hygiene.

Much of West Africa has very few working toilets, very little running water, hospitals that didn't implement universal precautions, and a population that has very bad individual hygiene – with almost no hand-washing and a lot of physical contact. As a result, Ebola spread – in fact, it's hard for Ebola NOT to spread when public urination is common and hand-washing is nearly impossible.

America is one of the cleanest countries in the world, with nearly everyone possessing running water, a nearby hospital, and decent individual hygiene. Furthermore, we are not a very physical nation – everyone loves their personal bubble. Thus, a widespread outbreak of Ebola would be nearly impossible in the United States.

2) The hospitals in the States are on alert and better prepared than nearly all West African hospitals.

A lot of people are saying we aren't prepared. Despite some of the decisions made by the Texas hospital that recently received an Ebola patient, in which two nurses contracted the disease, our hospitals are nevertheless better resourced than those in West Africa. If you think the decisions of American hospitals are risky, the decisions of many health-workers in Liberia were even worse. Some workers in Liberia were protecting themselves by wrapping trash bags around their hands.

If all of the precautions and protocols are followed, no outbreak will occur. The upside of people freaking out, however, is that everyone's being really cautious – making an Ebola outbreak even less plausible.

3) The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is conservative and on top of things.

Shortly after I was evacuated from Liberia, those of our family who were in the States were quarantined with very conservative regulations. While a lot of the decisions were made from public opinion, they were at least going above and beyond what was required to make sure Ebola did not spread. (This was primarily on a county and state level.)

They're trying to implement similar protocols in Texas, which makes me confident that even if multiple Americans get exposed to Ebola, the disease will not spread much farther than that. At this point of the disease there will not be a big American outbreak. Period. So don't freak out.

How Do We Stop Ebola and Keep It From the United States?

Simple answer? Stop it in West Africa. The way it's going, Ebola could become a second HIV, a disease that occurs with near-regularity in third world countries. That's not acceptable, and it's certainly a huge public health risk for the States. Maybe there won't be an outbreak here, but “Ebola Scares” could occur with more regularity.

Let me be frank. Americans frustrate me. While the outbreak spiraled out of control in West Africa, America was preoccupied with Who Shot Who and celebrity scandals. Now that three cases have emerged in the States, everyone freaks out. People have been dying and families have been ripped apart for months now. I've lost friends to Ebola. And America doesn't care until it affects them personally...and then they vastly overreact.

The best way to stop Ebola in the United States is to stop it in West Africa. If we set up precautions in our airports, educate our hospitals; if we send in money, resources, health workers, to West Africa – everything possible to stop the disease, the risk to the world will be nil.

Got it?

How Do We Protect Ourselves?

The odds of you or someone you know coming into contact with someone is symptomatic with Ebola is extremely small. (There are hundreds of millions of people in the United States, and three have contracted Ebola and had minimal contact with several dozen people, and those people are under quarantine or fever watch.) That means you're more likely to get hit by a car or die of the flu or win the lottery than to come in contact with (much less contract) Ebola.

That being said, there are two very simple things you can do to make your odds go from one in one million to...well, even lower odds.

One: wash your hands often. Obvious? Maybe. But if that had been done in West Africa, we wouldn't be looking at a global crisis.  Not only does it protect against Ebola, it'll also help you fight some of America's more minor viruses.

Two: don't touch any stranger who is sick. Most expatriate health workers quarantine themselves, or watch themselves for symptoms – so the most likely candidates for coming to the States with Ebola are native Liberians or Guineans or those from Sierra Leone. This is what happened with the Liberian man who got sick while in the States.

The fact is, you pretty much have to touch a person with Ebola to get sick. If you maintain these two ridiculously easy precautions, the already low odds will get even lower.

In Sum

You can't contract Ebola except through direct contact with infected fluids. Furthermore, the possibility of the average American coming in contact with Ebola fluids is extremely low, especially with our hygiene. Because of this hygiene, the worst case scenario is that a handful of Americans will get sick – assuming several Ebola patients do not go to the hospital and come in contact with people instead.

The danger of an American outbreak is low, but the danger will be nothing if we help West Africa and stop Ebola in its tracks.

Conclusion: don't panic. Know the facts. Don't touch sick people. Help West Africa. Spread the word.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Off Center: When God Meets Marketing

It was over a month ago when I first launched Stasis (popularly stylized STASIS), my first short story anthology and my first Kindle release in two years. I got pretty hyped up about it; hired a professional cover artist and did as much as I could to promote the release.

At first it seemed like things would go well. I had more likes on the Will Vullerman Facebook page than I did for The War Horn, and more followers on my blog. And it was a good thing, too! I needed to make some money, to put it bluntly. Not only did I have college and the surrounding stress looming on next year's horizon, but I wanted to attend a writing workshop this winter, and I had my eye on Stasis for providing the funds.

It didn't happen quite as I wanted it to. While the anthology sold well initially, within a week sales had dropped off to nothing. Compared to The War Horn, Stasis made little more than half in sales, even though I invested twice as much money into the cover art.

It told on the Amazon page, too. It currently has two reviews, compared to The War Horn's eight – four or five of which had been posted in the first month. So I was disappointed, and a little frustrated. What was up? All my logical senses told me that it should have worked better. I had a pretty good platform, I had a great cover; it should have done great. In the back of my head, I had a little inkling of conviction, but I shoved it aside and simply promoted the book more.

Then I read an excellent post by a friend of mine, and that inkling grew into a conviction. My focus was in the wrong place. But it wasn't until I read Phil Vischer's series of articles about the bankruptcy of VeggieTales, nearly ten years ago, that it really clicked.

Vischer explained, front-to-back, what had happened to VeggieTales and how it ended up in bankruptcy. But in the end, he said that it wasn't the lawsuit or the marketers or the bank that had led to this downfall; it was his own ambition, getting him off-center from the real message of his stories. Risky decisions and high budgets were all part of it, but when money rather than faith became the real gamble, VeggieTales crumbled.

And I really connected with that. Not only on the business side, but on the faith side. I had gotten off-center. Stasis had become about making some money, expanding my platform, and hoping that people got to read a story I thought was good.

Not bad things, and they're certainly necessary things for releasing a book. But they had become my main focus, and that was what was wrong. I had separated faith and marketing, making promotion an entirely secular thing. I had replaced the ultimate glory of God with the glory of self, narrowing in on my own petty problems and what I thought would solve them.

The real idea of the thing is letting my story glorify God in its own way, to prayerfully and consciously give it to the world, rather than selling it to the world. What really matters about Stasis is that people enjoy it, process it, find in it little gems of truth and larger echoes of that which is eternal. Money is a secondary thing.

Keep this as a reminder, both for you and for me; let it keep us on the straight and narrow. I love the writing process, and I revel in the joy I get from drawing a story, coloring in the characters and plots as richly as I can. I've learned how to keep first things first during the writing process. But all of the dazzling bewilderment of numbers and charts and profits threw my direction off, at first by just a decimal. But every rift grows over time.

Writing's not about money. Really, no job we love doing is really about money. It's about the glory of God—that two-way thing, where we get the greatest satisfaction and joy by making something for God's satisfaction and joy.

Am I still going to market Stasis? Sure. I'm even planning a promotional giveaway, and I've already acquired one of the books necessary. But that's not my focus. Focusing on marketing makes you stale, like a house shut up for too long, and long strings of numbers make you too impersonal. My focus is to let people enjoy...not to push or harass them into clicking the “Buy” button, but by honestly putting my work before them as it is, with as much warmth and humanity as I can muster.

I'm not a great big author on his great big author website. I'm a writer, like all the rest of you, grasping after stars of glory, wrought by the great Star-Maker.

Let's keep each other focused on the Center. That's where the real glory's at, after all.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Of Titles, Reviews, and Shrines of Bacon

Hello, hello!  It's been some time before I've had a really thorough update; and so the time has come ("the Walrus said") to talk of many things.

The first point I have to share is that a lot of things have happened behind the scenes.  The most notable of those things is that I have thoroughly revised "Tornado C"—in time to submit it to the OYAN Novel Contest.  But you had to have a name for the novel to submit.

It was a long, agonizing process.  It involved ridiculous names—I considered "That Ending Though" for a while—and almost-fitting names.  Finally, while brainstorming with a friend, I came up with something, several hours before my deadline.

I'm actually immensely pleased with the title.  It's sort of poetic, and it fits the novel well—as a story of monologues and deep thoughts, and high-emotion points where I tried to write the prose in such a way as to evoke poetry.  And while it still has rough spots, the novel has been significantly reworked for the contest, landing somewhere north of 100,000 words.

After I receive the results of the novel contest—that's several months out—I'm hoping to use A Swiftly Moving River to break into the traditional publishing world.  STASIS and The War Horn were my experiments, a way to expand my platform and get some work out there.

But I think A Swiftly Moving River is my first really good novel.  I've never had a novel that affected me this emotionally before, and I think that's a good indicator of how powerful it will be for the reader.  It's the sort of novel that might actually get published.

Next up on my list is the fact that I'm writing an exclusive Will Vullerman story, called "White-Out".  I'm two thousand words in and loving it so far.  It may be available to read soon, as part of a giveaway.  I'm planning on using it for marketing—I have a couple tricks up my sleeve to try and get the word out about STASIS.

Which brings me to my next point.  While the sales are doing well for STASIS, the Amazon page is lonely.  See for yourself:

If you've read the book already, I encourage you to be the FIRST to write a review—and even if you aren't the first, consider taking a few minutes to write one anyway.  Reviews are huge when it comes to marketing, and an honest review will help my marketing more than all the banners in the world.

It's a good cause, too!  I'm using the funds to try and apply for a writing workshop this winter.  Every sale I makes contributes two dollars towards a week of intensive writing development.

And finally, I'm in the States.  It's a long story of how I got here (I was evacuated due to the severity of the Ebola outbreak), but I'm happy to be in Kansas again.  I continually think of all those still in Liberia, however, and any prayers you have for them would be appreciated.  The outbreak continues to worsen, and that hits close to home.

Being back in the States has certain comforts, however.  Bacon, for instance; and whole milk.  While America tends to enshrine bacon, I do love it.  It is a beautiful thing.  (Whole milk is even better though.)  Kansas being the best place in the world, I am terribly grateful to be back again, to see my homeland after nearly a year of being apart from it.

That about sums it up.  How is YOUR writing going - if you have a current writing project?  If not, what are you reading?  (I'm reading the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, and I'm pleasantly surprised by how good it is.)

Till next time,

Saturday, August 23, 2014

STASIS - Now Available For Kindle (And What You Can Do To Help!)

Feast your eyes on this glorious screenshot!

The day has finally come -STASIS is available on Kindle!  Here's a direct link: CLICK HERE.

It's just $2.99.  That's like, less than a grande coffee at Starbucks.  That's less than buying a pack of socks at Old Navy.  Wear the old socks and buy the new book!  And the best thing is, you get to keep the book forever.  It won't wear out like a pair of socks, and it won't get sucked dry like a grande bold pick of the day.  (Although it may keep you up at night like aforementioned cup of coffee.)

What's not to love?

If you're as enthusiastic about this as I am (doubtful), or even a little bit excited (hopeful), then tune your ears and listen up.  Here are some things you can do to help make STASIS a success.  (And, to go all inspirational on you, a success for one self-published author is a success for all.  Plus, I'll likely be reinvesting this money into writing workshops - it's not like I'm going to run out and buy a Keurig with my royalties.  But don't tempt me.)

1. Buy the book today or tomorrow!  You've probably heard of the ever-popular "Amazon Blitz"—a time where all the readers buy the book at once, to push it up the sales rankings.  To make this launch as effective as possible, you can help STASIS do an informal blitz: just buy the book in the next twenty-four hours to help it shoot up the rankings!

And it's just three bucks. You click a couple of buttons and you can be reading it in less than a minute.  Even if you live right next to Old Navy, you couldn't get socks that fast.  The deal just keeps getting better and better!

2. Read and review it! Amazon reviews are enormously influential in helping people decide whether they want to read the book. And if your review is less-than-glowing, post it anyway - an honest review often helps sales more than a rant about how amazing this book is.  And I appreciate any feedback you have to give.

I also just created the Goodreads page for STASIS - so you can add it to your bookshelves and review it there, too!

3. Reshare on Facebook! (You can find the necessary links and the official Will Vullerman Facebook page here.  "Liking" the page can also help generate more interest in the book.)  The more exposure this gets, the more likely it is that STASIS will be a success.

4. Tell people about it! If you have a blog, do a review, or link up to the Amazon page - I'd really appreciate it.  Word-of-mouth is the only way indie books like this one survive - so get the word out!

Thanks to everyone who made this enormous effort possible.  You guys are all inspiring and wonderful.

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

STASIS Releases in the Next Couple of Days!

Hey, all!  Just wanted to provide a quick update to a blog that's gone silent in the past few weeks.

Due to life things that were beyond my control, the release of STASIS has been delayed - but it's now back on track!  All going well, it should release tomorrow or on Saturday.  Keep your eyes (figuratively) peeled!  (Because literally peeled would be kind of disgusting.)

Also, have a banner:

Till then,

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ebola and Book Releases: A Quick Update on Life and Writing

Hey, readers!  It's Jake again.

Ebola and book releases might be unrelated topics, but they're united in this post: as a result of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa (including a massive surge in Liberia, where I live), the release of STASIS may be delayed.  At the very least, it will be released sometime in August.

The Ebola outbreak has hit close to home, with two of my friends and fellow missionaries falling sick.  (My dad and his friend, Dr. Brantly, are pictured in the article I linked to.)  Because Ebola is a typically deadly disease, the news has been devastating for the whole missionary community.

It's been a very rough past few days.  It's been a mess of emotions and stress, and your prayers would be highly appreciated - both for my family and for my two friends who have contracted the virus.

I have had some time for marketing and making banners such as this one, however:

I don't know when exactly STASIS will be released, but I'll be updating the Will Vullerman Facebook page as often as I can.

And again, please pray for Liberia and for the current Ebola outbreak.  I'm sorry I don't have the time or energy for a more in-depth post; however, there are a number of articles from Samaritan's Purse and SIM that sum up the situation very well, with more emotion and clarity than I can muster right now.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

STASIS - Official Cover Art!

Writing and releasing Will Vullerman has been a long journey.  I came up with the first story, "In Stasis", shortly after moving to Liberia, typing it out in OpenOffice Word on my dusty Compaq.  One story became two, became three, and the series finished out in five parts—"The Thirteenth Call" ended up being so long that I had to divide it in two.

It's been a long time since these stories were finished, and the stories have changed since then, and the anthology has grown to more than forty thousand words.  "The Immortal Man" has been almost completely rewritten, and "The Thirteenth Call" went through several drafts.  But now they're finished, and formatted, and ready to be shared with the world.

But not without a fantastic cover!

I've always been careful not to release anything with cheap-looking art.  And this time, I chose to go with a professional cover artist in order to receive a cover that would look top-notch and reach readers who may not have heard of me before.  (The artist is the brilliant Kirk DouPonce of DogEared Design.)  And the results were awesome!  But enough with the monologues: feast your eyes!

STASIS is due to be released sometime in the next couple of weeks—I'll keep you guys posted!  Due to the experience I've had with other e-book sites (a lot of work for few sales), STASIS will be released exclusively for Kindle late July/early August.

And, of course, here's the official synopsis, to whet your appetite:


Will Vullerman's job isn't easy. He's the top operative of the ASP—a secret agent for a new age. Sure, it might be a dangerous job, but he relishes the thrill of a mission accomplished.

But when a mysterious signal is picked up from war-torn North America, it is Will who is sent in—and what he finds there will change the world.

A hidden labyrinth deep beneath the ground—a ring that can alter your sense of reality—the dangerous secret of an illegal genetics facility—all this and more will test Will's strength and character. The stakes are high, and one wrong step could mean failure...and death for the people he's trying to protect.

Will Vullerman's job may not be easy, but it's about to get a whole lot harder.


(Any opinions you have on the synopsis would be most welcome!)

There you have it!  Feel free to spread the word: STASIS, Summer 2014!  And if you have a moment, consider liking Will Vullerman's Facebook page, to keep yourself up-to-date on all the latest Will Vullerman news.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"STASIS" Cover Art Is Revealed - Tomorrow!

Hey, readers!  Just a few short minutes ago I received the cover art for my Will Vullerman anthology, "Stasis".  And might I say - it is fantastic!  I can't wait to share it with you.  And I think it'll go very nicely on Stasis's Amazon page when I release it later this summer.

But all good things come to those who wait.  I'll be revealing the cover art of Stasis TOMORROW - it'll build up some suspense and excitement.  Along with the cover, I'll give an official synopsis for the anthology.

If you haven't already, consider liking the Will Vullerman Facebook page.  I'll be posting more updates on there as I get closer to the release date, and the cover should release on there about the same time as it does on here.

See you all tomorrow!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Good Storytelling: Is Simple Better Than Complicated?

The more I work at ironing out my plots and trying to make every word count, the more I admire good storytelling.

Like Pixar movies. Even Pixar movies I've seen a dozen times never cease to amaze me. There are little things here and there - original, streamlined, no-more-no-less storytelling that make each movie simply incredible.  The plots may be simple, but simple isn't a bad thing.

They're deceptively simple, in fact. It's *hard* work, making every scene of your story lead to the next scene - making everything fit together in one understandable and cohesive whole, to raise the stakes little by little.  Simple?  Maybe.  But you should never judge how hard something is till you've done it yourself: and writing a streamlined story is a lot harder than it looks.

It's confusing and tiring work. And I'm just starting to learn that simple is often better than complicated.

Somehow, Brad Bird can tell a better story with a rat in Paris than I can with a haunted teenager in a complicated fantasy world. And I think any writer could benefit by studying just how he and other Pixar directors do it.

All I'm saying is, if I ever get half as good at telling stories as Andrew Stanton or Pete Docter or Brad Bird or John Lasseter, I might actually be able to turn my good ideas into good stories. Here's to hoping.

What about you?  What are your stories, the ones that you fall back on when you need a reminder of what good storytelling looks like?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Revision Problems: Keeping the Pacing Regular

Irregular pacing is one of the battle cries of the critic; and I think it means that we know something is wrong, but can't quite put our finger on it.  We chalk it up to pacing.

To some extent, that's true.  Bad pacing can make a whole novel feel “off”.  It can ruin an otherwise good story—and it's got to be fixed.

And there's a way to do that.  But first, let's define just what pacing is. 

It's your novel's speed.  Sometimes readers describe novels as “fast-paced”—page-turners.  The pace of your novel is how fast the reader wants to read—and it's directly related to how urgent and tense the scene is.  The more intense the scene, the faster the pace.

So irregular pacing is where your novel alternates between a fast pace and a slow pace too often or too quickly.  A well-paced novel starts out with a certain level of tension and gradually increases the tension as the novel goes on, until it comes to a climax.  A badly paced novel starts out with a lot of tension, drops it, picks it up again—it's not measured and regular, which is where the term irregular pacing comes from.

Let me clarify that slow pacing is not a bad thing.  It can be very good if used correctly.  After all, what's a novel without a few conversations around the fire?  What about when characters are talking about their past?  What about all those deep moments that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside?

Properly spaced, these deep moments can have a huge impact.  They develop the characters and endear the reader—and they give you a little bit of breathing space before going on to the next conflict of the story.  A story without slow moments feels rushed and hurried.  Even “action” movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier have slow moments where the characters just talk.

So that's good pacing—a story which ratchets up the suspense and tension, piece by piece, with slow intervals in between to give you some space and character development.  Bad pacing is where the suspense and tension runs wanders around the story like a three-year-old scribbling on a piece of paper.

So how do you fix bad pacing?

First, figure out where it is.  The biggest clue is a feeling that something is “off”, a little niggling at the back of your head that something feels wrong.

I recently encountered this while revising Chapter Ten of my novel.  My characters are en route to the worst prison in the country, and the scene I was rewriting took place shortly after a very intense conflict.

But for some reason, the scene wouldn't work.  I cut the excess dialogue (nearly three hundred of the fifteen hundred words), reworked the action beats, and did everything I could think of to make it interesting.  The dialogue was fine, the prose was fine, but it just didn't feel right.

It wasn't until this morning that I figured out what was wrong.  The pacing was off.   The fifteen hundred words of banter and character explanation just didn't feel right, sandwiched in between two high-tension action scenes.

Once you figure out where the pacing problem is, like I did, either cut or relocate the scene that's causing the problem.  In this case, I cut most of the scene,  which allowed me to maintain the tension level.  What was left of the scene, I rewrote into a separate scene that takes place after the tension drops off a bit more.

Sometimes a whole section of your story is causing the problem.  Find out why.  Oftentimes, things are too easy—I had that problem several times.  The solution?  It's easy: brainstorm ways your characters' plans could backfire or go wrong.  Then, do it!  Nothing helps a dragging scene like an unexpected disaster.

Fantastic novels are well-paced.  If you can learn how to detect and fix pacing problems, you'll be ten steps ahead of everyone else.

What about you?  What's been your experience with the mystical concept of “pacing”?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bite-Sized Reviews: The Winter Soldier, Dreamtreaders, Andrew Peterson, and More!

I figured I should do something more productive with my blog time—and since I'm a highly opinionated person, hey, I should do some reviews!

Except I don't have time to write long ones.  The result?  Bite-sized reviews!  A paragraph or two, just enough to give you an idea of what the story is like and how I liked it.  Anything from movies to books to TV shows.  Ready?

First up:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

8.5 out of 10 points.

Despite the high violence content (I don't have much tolerance for machine guns), this was surprisingly enjoyable.  I love Captain America as a character, and the theme of the story was very much needed in our post-morality high-tech world.  Sure, the movie would be miles better if some of the fighting scenes didn't drag on, but at least the main character doesn't completely destroy whole cities. (*cough* MAN OF STEEL *cough*)

Also, can I say, the scene where Cap breaks out of S.H.I.E.L.D is just awesome?  Definitely looking forward to his third movie—and Avengers: Age of Ultron!

Reapers (Bryan Davis)

7 out of 10 points.

Bryan Davis forges on into new territory with Reapers, a sort-of-secular novel that's got a great concept and a likable narrator.  Some of the usual Davis problems surfaced, however: the plot didn't have any particular goal (although the pages certainly turned), and the characters felt stilted.  Worst of all, the villain had little or no motivation for what she did—she was completely flat, something I disliked very much.

Still, it's got an enjoyable concept.  It's worth reading, despite the fact that it doesn't touch the goodness of Davis's original novels.

Dreamtreaders (Wayne Thomas Batson)

7 out of 10 points.

This was the first Batson book I was actually disappointed with.  While it has a fantastic concept, it falls into the great pitfall of Young Adult writing: a Young Adult writing style.  For whatever reason, the tight, descriptive prose of GHOST and Sword in the Stars has given way to a style fraught with oddities and appears to be a desert of action beats.  (There's a lot of murmuring and yelling and shouting and bellowing - but nobody actually says their words, and nobody actually moves while they're talking.)

On top of that, the characters seemed to be a little flat, with a plot that took awhile to get going. Like I said, I love the concept.  I just wish that Sir Batson had worked on it a little longer—taking the time to polish the prose, fill in plot holes, and deepen the characters would have helped it immensely.  Still, it's worth reading, if only because it's a Batson. (And it's got a beautiful cover.)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

8 out of 10 points.

I was surprised by how much I liked this one, since I thought the first movie was so-so.  While some of the action felt cheesy and the humor forced (save for the "chimney" scene), the ending was remarkably good, and the making of the Green Goblin was very well done.  I look forward to the third movie!

Now, wouldn't it be great if he joined the Avengers?

The Warden and the Wolf King (Andrew Peterson)

9.5 out of 10 points.

Of all of the books that have come out in the last year, this was the one I was looking forward to the most.  And it did not disappoint.  It had sneakery - it had devastating plot twists - and it had an ending that was like a punch in the gut.

You see, for the first time since fourth grade, a book has succeeded in making me cry.  Not just a single tear, mind you.  It has possibly the best ending I have ever read in a Christian fiction book, and one that moved me to the core.  Perhaps it's because I identify so much with the main character—I don't know.  Whatever it was, this is, thus far, the best book of 2014.

Buy all four books, and in the words of Larry the Cucumber, "I laughed, I cried—it moved me, Bob."


Marvel is continuing to make tolerably good superhero movies, and though Christian fiction often has good ideas that lack good execution, Andrew Peterson's latest book is a shining exception.

What about you?  What did you think of these stories - and have you read or watched any that weren't discussed here?  Tell me about it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Commander Dakor's Letter to the Front

(In other words, this is yet another world-building and revision post.)

Things are going well over here across the pond.  I just finished a significant chunk of my revisions (the first seven chapters of the twenty-four chapter novel) and I'm enjoying myself.

Since my revisions today were remarkably scant (Chapter Seven is nearly perfect), I wrote up some extraneous stuff for fun.

The result?

An official letter which was actually sent out in the novel, but isn't ever directly mentioned or quoted.  It's written by Commander Dakor Meldrein, my villain.  (He is by far my favorite villain; and do ignore the horrible signature I came up with for him.  It's the best I could do with five minutes and Paint.)  This takes place shortly after Sub-General Percidon makes some pretty bad strategic moves and loses some critical ground on the Vandar River.

I hope you enjoy it! ;)

P.S. - I updated the "Novels" page up at the top and renamed it "Projects".  All of my life's work is laid out there in statistics and dusty old dates, so if you're that sort of person (I sure am), feel free to check it out!  In case the bar at the top isn't obvious enough, you can click here.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

How to Revise Your Novel - Without Burning Out

Last week I started my Tornado C revisions in earnest.  I set a personal goal to revise one chapter every two days—and so far I've stuck to it.  Today I'm on Chapter 5 out of 24.  Even though Chapters 1-5 are some of the shortest in the book, I'm still surprised at how quickly I'm moving.

And what's even more surprising is how I'm not getting tired of my revisions, in what's known as "burning out".

There are different stages of burning out.  The first stage is just getting tired of what you're doing.  The second stage is where the quality starts getting affected—you start slogging through the revisions, and rather than examining your work, you're glossing over your work.

And finally, you just get so sick and tired of looking at your novel all day long that you quit, sometimes for weeks on end.  I've had these symptoms before; we all have.

But what's remarkable about my Tornado C revisions is that, up to this point, I haven't even hit the first stage of burn-out.  Sure, sometimes I feel like Facebook is more fun than revisions, but I'm not tired of it, not yet.

So what's so different about THESE revisions?

I've noticed a few different things that help keep me from burning out—and I feel a list coming on.  Here we go!

1. Be well-rested.

Besides my Will Vullerman revisions last month, and a few small projects here and there, I have not done any heavy writing since NaNoWriMo last year.

And that makes a big difference.  I'm ready to get working on a new project, and I have all of that pent-up creative energy to spend.

2. Set a modest and achievable goal.

The reason I put "modest" in there is that "achievable" needs to be modified.  NaNoWriMo is achievable.  Yet few writing bonanzas have more burn-outs than that infamous contest in November.

Setting a modest goal makes you feel like you're getting stuff done—and you are.  Just keep going at it, steadily, but don't make your goals so high that you have to crunch to meet your deadlines.  That'll keep you from burning out.

This worked really well in my own revisions.  I set a goal of revising one chapter every two days—so far it's required one or two hours a day to get it done, which isn't bad at all.

3. Be prepared.

This is, by far, the most important of the three tips, and the one I've seen make the most difference in my own novel.

My personal preparations were a little elaborate.  I started out by refining my world-building and composing several long works on culture and politics, in addition to drawing supplementary maps.  (What can I say?  I'm one of those world-building geeks.  I love it.)

Then I wrote down all of the writing tips I've found most helpful in my own life, and ones that people have recommended to me.  After that, I reread my novel, making notes as I went.  I identified all of the weakest points—the characters that didn't make sense, the rockiest parts of my prose, the plot holes, the pacing problems.

After that (I see your eyes growing wider; don't worry, I'll be finished soon) I put my writing tips and weak points together and wrote myself a revision plan.  I found all of the questions I would need to ask to revise each chapter, and I put them into my plan.  It ended up being twenty-one steps, in order from the most general to the most specific—my beginning questions had to do with plot and character, and my ending questions had to do with passive voice and adverbs and telling.

For instance, my first question was this: 1. "Reimagine the scene.  What could go differently?  What could go wrong?"  It was followed by, "Determine the goal of the scene: add setbacks and tension."

One of my last questions was, "Examine adverbs and adjectives and eliminate where necessary."  That let me deal with the big picture first, and let me end on the nuts and bolts of sentence structure.

Obviously, to be prepared, you don't have to write yourself an elaborate revision plan.  But knowing just what's wrong with your novel, and brainstorming how you could fix it, helps your revisions go smoothly and quickly.  I found that "mapping out" my plots on paper was especially helpful, since I could see the plot holes visually and try to brainstorm ways to fill those holes—through setbacks and disasters.

Remember, good stories are not written—they are rewritten.  And good concepts, too.  Look at your novel with a critical eye and try to pick apart what's wrong before you actually start revising.

If you're prepared, well-rested, and you have a set goal—well, I can't imagine a better way to keep from burning out!

What about you?  Have you found any tricks that are especially helpful in avoiding burn-out?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Different Take on Originality

In the making of Up, storyteller Pete Docter changed the main plot of the story multiple times - sometimes drastically, taking the story in a totally different direction.  The original concept was of a castle floating in the sky, inhabited by a king and his two sons.  His sons were opposites and couldn't stand each other - and they were vying to inherit the kingdom.

Then the story changed.  Taking along only the title (Up) and a tall bird that had originally helped the brothers understand each other, Docter reimagined the film as the story of an old man, Carl Fredrickson, who eventually ends up with his eight-year-old stowaway, Russell, on a Soviet dirigible.  Then that idea changed, and the Soviet subplot was done away with.

Eventually, Up became the beloved story it is today - a tale of a balloon house that flies to Paradise Falls.  But only after many, many revisions.*

You see, the deal is, originality doesn't come from concept.  Up wasn't born perfect - no story is.  Every story starts out cheap. What separates the good stories - the original and affecting ones - from the cheesy stories is how often they are revised into a better work of art. Examine character motivations and plot twists - in making them better the story becomes less typical.

Everyone's heard that "great books are not written, but rewritten".  But that great CONCEPTS are rewritten - that changes the way you think. If the plot and characters of a story aren't set in stone, if you're willing to completely change the story, then you can free your story from cliches - rewrite it into something that has never been done before.

Good revisions make originality, not good concepts.  

And you know, that's encouraging.  As bad as your story might be right now, it has the capability to become something great.  Something original.

Don't give up hope, and don't give up tweaking.  Both will see you and your story through.

* (All information regarding the development of Up sourced from Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.  Which, by the way, is an excellent read, and one I recommend.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Reminder for the Christian Writer

Sometimes what's obvious, isn't so obvious.

Writers can get this more than other people. Sometimes we can't see what's glaringly obvious because we've been looking at the details; we can't see the major flaws of a project just because we've been working on it for months on end.

But this doesn't just happen in writing. Sometimes we can lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes we can get so caught up in doing things that we don't remember why we're doing them.

That's when we need reminders. No matter how well you know something, you always need a reminder, because you'll forget it. Little by little, inadvertently, it'll slip from your mind, even if you've tried to stay focused.

This happened to me this past week. My writing just wasn't flowing. I wasn't feeling inspired. I wasn't feeling motivated. I had a lot of goals and a lot of ideas, but they all felt discordant and disconnected. What was going on?

I decided to sit down and figure it out. It was about midnight, I think; and an unusually cool night. I decided what I needed to do was to review the fundamentals, especially when it came to writing. What was I doing with my writing?

The initial answer came easily. I wanted to glorify God with my writing.

But how?

That spawned this post, which is copied from my “midnight notes”. I went back to the basics—I reviewed the fundamentals. To the question “How can I glorify God with writing?” I discovered four answers, roughly in order.

So. How can I glorify God with writing?

1) By showing his glory.

This seems obvious, perhaps. But it's so much bigger and more meaningful once you get past the “Christianese” that surrounds the word “glory”. Showing God's glory in writing means embodying his love so we can experience it more; his goodness so we might thirst for it more; his joy so we might rejoice in it more; his faithfulness so we might give thanks all the more.

Showing God's glory in writing means taking what's good about God, what's glorious about God, and putting it into a story. It means making it so that we can see it clearer than ever before; sometimes our view of God and his virtues is skewed or veiled. The writer's job is to straighten the picture and unveil the masterpiece. We embed the nature of God in a story so that people can see it in a new light, because they might not be able to see it properly in real life.

Interestingly enough, I sometimes think of How To Train Your Dragon when I review this point. Because what that film did, superbly, is convey a sense of wonder. Whether or not the makers of that movie meant to show the glory of God or not, they did. And that's an attribute of God I appreciate more and more. He's full of wonder. And as much as I like HTTYD, that pales in comparison to the wonder found in Christ! So really, it just reflects us back to him who is ultimately wonderful. As beautiful as John Powell soundtrack is, it's a mere echo to the glory of God.

And that's what our work should be—echoes of the glory of God.

2) By showing our journey.

Showing our journey means embedding our hopes and worries and fears into a story. All of the things that all of us feel. Then we play them out in conflict and in plot; and it shows us, ultimately, how God leads us closer to him, to trust him and to triumph in him.

And this one's more practical. Because if you embed a truth of Scripture in a story, it becomes more than just a story. It applies to life. Just like the story Nathan told David changed him, showed him where he was wrong, a story that tells the truth can change people. If it shows our problem, it can show our solution. It can show the end of the journey. It goes beyond a story into real life.

3) By writing the story he inspires, without compromise.

If the story best glorifies God with explicitly Christian content, write it so. If it best glorifies him with implicitly Christian content, write it so. God's glory, not man's judgment, is paramount.

Does that mean that our stories always have to be explicitly Christian? No. Because if God calls you to write a novel that is implicitly Christian, to disobey that calling is to deny him the glory of us doing what we are called to do.

Without compromise is an important phrase. That means that it should be no more and no less “explicit” than what we are called to. I'm not going to force theology into Will Vullerman because that's not what God called me to do when I wrote it. But I'm not going to tone down the theology of Tornado C, because that's not what God called me to do when I wrote it.

4) By writing the best story I can.

Excellence glorifies God. Simply doing something well brings glory to him. What that means is that when I write, I write with passion, dedication, and the love a craftsman has for his craft. It means a love for detail, for technical and structural mastery. It means raw honesty, truth, and emotion.

And a ridiculously good story.

In summary, I glorify God in writing by showing his glory, showing our journey, and writing the story he inspires, without compromise, as best I can.

If a story does not do this, I have no business writing it.

That's our reminder. Keep focused. Don't lose sight of why we write, and how we put it into practice. Sometimes we have to reexamine the fundamentals in order to find clarity in what we're doing.

I certainly found that to be true in my own life—after doing this, I attacked my projects with renewed vigor, finishing my world-building project today at 10,000 words. Having a clear goal helps you have a clear path.

Now—let's get going! Once we have the goal in sight, we don't have any excuses left to keep us from the road.

Soli Deo gloria!

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men...It is the LORD Christ you are serving.” —Colossians 3:23-24

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly...And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:16-17

Monday, May 5, 2014

Read "The Thirteenth Call" and "The Immortal Man" for FREE!

I've been working like mad to wrap up my revisions for my Will Vullerman stories.  After overhauling "The Thirteenth Call" and rewriting large portions of "The Immortal Man", I've finally declared them finished!  All going well, I'm hoping to release them Kindle later this year.

As a result, here I am again, after more than a year.  I'm continuing the tradition of the first two stories—blog readers get to read Will Vullerman for free!

Since it's been a long time I last made this offer, let me amend it: you can request to read any or all of the Will Vullerman stories.  Even the first two have gone through some minor touch-ups, so if you want to reread them, feel free to request all four stories.

But before you do, read the requirements:

First, you must be a follower or “chronic reader” of this blog at the time of this post to be eligible for these free copies. That just means that you have to be one of the current 170+ Google followers, or that you're someone who has been reading this blog for a while.

Second, I need to receive an email from you in order for you to get your free copies. Send me an email at jtbdude [at] gmail [dot] com requesting your copies, letting me know 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.  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 awhile for me to reply—longer than a week, perhaps.  My internet isn't terribly reliable.

There are no strings attached. While I'd value your opinions and critiques, they are not required for you to receive the story.  (If you do notice some bad plot holes or typos, feel free to let me know.)

Please consider, however, writing a review once the stories come out on Kindle—balanced reviews are crucial on Amazon!

The offer doesn't go on forever. This is only available to blog followers from now up until the time Will Vullerman is published. After that, this post no longer valid. So if you wish to read these stories, please email me as soon as you can!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Frozen: A Revised Review

(Disclaimer: this review contains spoilers.)

A long while back I wrote a critical review of Frozen.  Since then, I've talked to a lot of people about the opinions expressed in that review—my thoughts on “Let It Go”, for instance, or the pent-up potential of the characters' development.

All of this discussion led me to rewatch the movie, so that I could examine the plot and character a little more closely.  I was surprised how much more I liked it the second time—and so I decided to overhaul my review, clarifying the points that people often get wrong and modifying the parts where my opinion changed.

To start out with, what impressed me the most is the theme of Frozen.  In my first review, I noted the ideals: the idea that love is not just romantic, but is bigger and more powerful than that.  Seeing it again, the themes felt larger and more powerful.

Anna has “ice in her heart” that is “put there by her sister”—you can easily see the analogy to the figurative “ice” that comes about in sibling relationships.  Sometimes you get hurt by the people you love.

What's incredible is that Frozen implies that the way to get rid of that ice in your heart is to love all the more.  Anna's sacrifice melts her heart.  If you follow the analogy, the way to heal a relationship where you've been hurt is not to love the other person less, but to love them more.  It's remarkable is just how “Christian” that idea is, especially coming from a secular studio that often emphasizes romantic love and feel-good tropes.  It's “love your enemy” wrapped up in a Disney fairy tale.

I still hold that the first ten or fifteen minutes were the best of the movie.  (My favorite song of the movie is the one that opens the credits, followed by “Frozen Heart”.)  There's a huge amount of character development from there to the end of “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?”  In some ways, I wish the rest of the movie had followed the trend—especially the focus on Elsa, and the emotional punch that her isolation brought to the movie.

Yet the emotional punch only went as far as twenty minutes.  I was under the impression that the use of Elsa's gift could kill Anna, if Anna remembered.  When Elsa revealed her gift and nothing happened to Anna, a potentially explosive twist was erased. 

Then Elsa runs away and sings (as “Honest Trailers” puts it), the “YOLO song”, Let It Go.

(Disclaimer: this section is very long, because it is the most controversial, and I took a lot of time to explain my position.  Feel free to skim!)

My original perception of the song was that Elsa was abandoning her sister and her kingdom to live alone, a “Who cares about them, anyway?” mentality.  There are still some hints of that in the song, but in order to analyze it, I split it into two parts.  (One reason why this song has so many facets is that Elsa was originally conceived as a villain, and Let It Go was her villain song.)

Why split it up?  Well, I really don't mind one message of the song.  The first and second verse are mostly about her “letting go” of her failures and seeing what her powers can do when she unleashes her creative potential.  There are still some iffy parts, but it's not nearly as bad as my first assumption.

But the second half of the song, combined with certain phrases from the chorus, is where it strays into a gray zone.  The song shifts gears: it's no longer about letting her potential out, but more about letting go of everyone else.  (“I'm alone, but I'm alone and free,” she says later in the movie.)  Her solitude became less and less a sacrifice, and more and more an affirmation of “I don't need them.  I can be myself here, alone,” which is ultimately a destructive ideal. 

The first half of the song says, “Since I can't be with them, I might as well let it go.”  Her “kingdom of isolation” isn't self-imposed; she says it “looks like” she's the queen.  The second half says, “I'm going to let it go in spite of them all.”   Who needs them?  Slam the door!

Instead of accepting her isolation as a necessary evil, she accepts it as a necessary good.  “Let the storm rage on,” “you'll never see me cry,”  and “the perfect girl is gone”; she overcompensates for all those pent-up years by letting go of all of her fear and bitterness—towards her powers.  The cold never bothered her anyway. 

But she lets go of all of her responsibilities and, more importantly, her sister, and that's where the song goes wrong.  “I'm never going back – the past is in the past!”

This is fine—in the context of the story.  Later on, she finally realizes that this “freedom”, which is really isolation, hurts her just as much as her first isolation did. (“Nobody wants to be alone,” Anna says.)   But the problem is, the song has now become a phenomenon —so I'm wondering if people missed the point.  Elsa goes through two extremes: isolating her powers and being with others, or isolating herself and freeing her powers.  Both eventually harm her.

By the end of the movie, she learns that it's love that will make her really free.  That's how she controls her powers—and her isolation, of all sorts, ends.

Let It Go is the song that deals with Elsa's swing to the other extreme.  As such, it shouldn't be trumpeted as a great cry for independence and creativity.  Because it's not – or half the song isn't.  The rest of the song promotes a mentality prevalent in our culture: you don't need anyone.  Just be true to yourself.  And that's not what Frozen is saying.

(Okay.  Rant over.  Thanks for listening.)

This brings me to the three major contradictions of the movie.

First up.  Elsa sings that her fears that “once controlled her, can't get to me at all”.  Except in her next scene, she says, “There's so much fear.”  So which is right?  Either the movie contradicted itself, and the writers of Let It Go were in a hurry to make it a feel-good single, or Elsa contradicted herself.  (I'm leaning toward the latter.  As it turns out, isolation can't solve your fear – but “Perfect love casts out all fear”, which is exactly what happens later in the movie.  Another strike against Let It Go.)

Then, Anna exhibits a few symptoms of bitterness when she tells Elsa that she's been shut out for so long, an understandable and human reaction.  Those dissolve, however, and never surface again—which means that we lose some realism and character potential.

Finally, despite Disney's previous treatment of “true love”, Anna and Kristoff are romantically interested.  “Sure,” says Disney, “True love can't be forged in a day – but it might happen in two days, if you go on a snowy trek with an attractive fellow.” 

Plotwise, the story lacked a satisfying and even arc.  The pacing had problems.  After the first ten minutes, which were heavy in character development, Elsa's character came to a virtual standstill, and Anna accomplished almost nothing to do with the plot till she got herself stabbed with an icicle.  It definitely felt rushed, like the filmmakers hadn't marinated the story long enough. 

This is most clearly seen if you contrast the first and second halves of the movie.  The first half introduces the characters, and for the most part has good development and smooth dialogue.  The second half slacks off – once Anna finds her sister, the goal of the story becomes uncertain and the plot meanders. 

Then we have Kristoff's sudden fondness for Anna, culminating in breathing her name when he sees a random tornado thing over Arindel.  Because that line has never been done before.  To top it off, we have Hans, who recycles so many bad villain lines that he ought to be sued for plagiarism.

Combined, this creates a movie with some really good parts and some really sloppy parts.  The humor's great and the theme is surprisingly deep.  But unfortunately, the symptoms of rushed production are evident: character contradictions, irregular pacing, and cliché lines.  It had a lot of potential—but only some of it was used.  However, the philosophical shift that has taken place through Frozen is remarkable, and gives me hope for future Disney movies.

What do you think?  Did I hit closer to the mark this time?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.